Ockham Shortlist 2020: How I Get Ready by Ashleigh Young

Below is an excerpt from the poetry collection How I Get Ready by Ashleigh Young, which is shortlisted for this year’s Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the  Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

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About the poet:

Ashleigh Young is the author of the poetry collection Magnificent Moon (VUP, 2012), and the essay collection Can You Tolerate This? (VUP, 2016) which won a Windham-Campbell Prize from Yale University and the Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non-Fiction in 2017. She works as an editor and lives in Wellington.

About the book:

In her new poetry collection How I Get Ready, Ashleigh Young fails to learn to drive, vanishes from the fossil record, and finally finishes writing a book.

‘Every poem catches me! Some books you pick up, scan a few pages and then put down because you just can’t traverse the bridge into the poems. Not this one. It is as exhilarating as riding a bicycle into terrain that is both intensely familiar and breathtaking not. The speaker is both screened and exposed. The writing feels like it comes out of slow gestation and astutely measured craft. I say this because I have read this andante, at a snail’s pace. Glorious!’ – NZ Poetry Shelf, Paula Green




(Victoria University Press)


Action Lines


I’d thought we would go up
like those bright inflatable men
jack-knifing from the waist, then rippling up with the flags.
I’d thought we’d go up easy, action lines coming out of us.
Now I know leaving will take more effort.
We blow up the dancer by mouth
and just as he’s full enough to take up his rightful position,
we black out on the ground. Later, without fanfare
someone presses their ear to our torso
while someone else picks at the ancient knots in our laces


Out where the towels I’ve forgotten grow damp again
I see the dirt digging itself up
and becoming an animal. Wind shakes a tree
in greeting and a lone bucket empties itself
of seasonal debris before coming, hollow, to a close.
In the yellow window you are looking
for the source of the water in the fridge
and your hands grow numb as pegs in grass.
When I feel the scratch of towel-caught crickets
on my arms these things become diffuse again
as rain reversing into a driveway


I will wait for this to become less strange.
That I live in a small city and yet so often there are
six other Ashleigh Youngs in the database.
That I fall over the same lip of footpath
and my knees, ever opened, assume
an exasperated expression.
That the nights grow up too fast


That the joke is old but I still wake up
to find you putting your work boots on my feet.
Perhaps this is the day I will take your place. Yes, this is the day!
I still hope we’ll be huge and hilarious, rippling, up with the flags,
our arms a stream of jelly snakes in the sky.
We will no longer have to come to terms with the fact
that we are probably just ordinary.







© Ashleigh Young, 2019, published in How I Get Ready, Victoria University Press.


‘Inspiration is the name for a privileged kind of listening’ - David Howard

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