When an artist ebbs and flows, we typically think of it as the amount of actual work they are able to put out into the world versus the time they spend unable to create. It’s rare, however, to find creative work that captures an ebb and flow within the art itself.
In Lauren Best’s 2023 collection of poems Just Leaves, she does just that: capturing the beauty of a nice thought turned slightly awry when it is interrupted. It’s as if each of her poems channels two sides of a story, while filtering them into one stream of consciousness. I think what Best has so eloquently accomplished with these poems is capturing the all too familiar sound of multiple thoughts moving at once, the voices in our heads that interrupt and speak over each other, interjecting with new ideas and relating them to other experiences.
Throughout seventeen careful, honest, deeply personal poems, Best manages to use charming imagery to expand on wholesome experiences that are juxtaposed by the jolting feelings of electric shock that accompany the reality checks we’re often faced with. Her use of conversational language makes us feel at ease, while she folds in poignant comparisons to everyday situations and executes split-second metaphoric changes with originality. When she says “Today I will be like apple crumble” we feel the warmth of positive memories, dusted in the safety of our grandparents’ kitchens. Until she follows up with “warm and delicious, despite falling apart” waking us to the reality of what she’s really saying.
She moves aggressive and intense imagery like “self-immolating burning needs that flicker and firestorm” to the gentle admission of “I want to soothe you, but also stir you. Surprise you, sometimes”.
In doing so, she takes us on a ride that dips between ferocious, raw, larger-than-life, and the sincerity of soft-spoken, honest, relational transparency. Best is clever at returning to where she began a piece, offering the reader a semblance of closure, but not before the poetic journey that force us to both reconcile with our own thoughts and to understand her experiences more deeply.
In this collection of the poems, I feel as though she is working through something, choosing never to avoid a conflict, but to face it head-on with controlled breath and a centred mind. The nuggets of spiritual gold scattered throughout the book indicate a level of maturity, both linguistically and experientially.
“Loss is like permafrost” a gentle symbolic reminder that we contain the ability to hold onto our grief. Whether we clear space for it at the table, in the passenger seat of our car, or allow it to overcome our entire world, enveloping us in a permanent, icy state.
Her ability to linger on a subject is impressive. Not because it takes patience to thoroughly comb through the depths of a matter, but because the analysis that is necessary when inspecting each side of a story can often be overlooked in this art form. As poetry comes inherently from emotion, it is rare to find a writer who not only looks at each side of a coin, but takes time to inspect every millimetre of its worn, round edges.
If we view Best’s poems as a home, she might begin with an establishing shot of a grandiose two-story wooden house on a country property, taking time to caress its structure and describing its unique accents. As we reach a point where our concept of the home and what it stands for is solidifying, she sweeps us around to the far back corner of the property and forces us to look through the cracked window of a tool shed, paying attention to the way in which the light shines through the thin glass and casts shadows onto the home itself. In her validation of each side of a story, she purveys an empathic emotional ability that coincides with that of a moderator, ensuring balance and well-roundedness in her tales.
I can’t tell you what her poems will mean to you, but I can guarantee you will experience movement as you work your way from yard to room, in her exquisite depictions of aging, love, loss, grace and pain; before it all comes to a head in Fire Side, the climactic, gentle, lyrical, humorous, real, loving and cheeky conclusion to her collection.
Get yourself a copy of Lauren Best’s Just Leaves and learn more here.