A review of Ask Me About the Future by Rebecca Jessen

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

Ask Me About the Future
by Rebecca Jensen
University of Queensland Press
ISBN: 9780702262791, Paperback B, 96 pages, March 2020

Since very young I loved kaleidoscopes. As this is a toy no longer in fashion, many readers may not know what these are, so let me explain it: a kaleidoscope is an optical toy that produces beautiful patterns. Reading Ask Me About the Future reminded me of my favourite toy because at each turn of the pages something different, unusual, and captivating confronted me. It is not because the book is rich in imagery, but rather the poststructural creativity of the author. Jessen plays with language and meaning. She values the visual form: the spacing and arrangement of the words, phrases and sentences. The poems can be interpreted in many ways, and I am not surprised that the poet has won numerous awards.

Ask Me About the Future is divided in three parts plus a few pages of notes and acknowledgements. In the three sections the personal, whether experiences, feelings or thoughts are expressed in many different styles.

In part one, directly from the first poem Jessen tells the reader what she is and what she is not, a great introduction that leaves you pondering because she contradicts herself. In the next poem she moves to the future where all queer people escape Earth because of their orientation. Subsequent poems are on a variety of topics, each so fascinating that I could not put the book down.

Part two contains a series of diary entries about reaching puberty and the events leading to her sister having a baby. There are interesting remembrances and tensions. In this section, Jessen demonstrates her skills as a poet, utilising long narrations, borrowed texts, found poetry and lists. Jessen’s sense of humour is apparent in many poems, as it is her skill in achieving poetic rhythm. 

Many poems contain political and sarcastic comments and some are sad like the following poem titled “time-lapse”:

you have left something of yourself unattended
when the train plunges through a tunnel, and you leap
into that other life where you were held once.
the double-glass refracts a tiling sun,
a burning both inside and out.
unchecked hope is a turning

Having been away from the queer/gay scene for a while a few times I had to google the meaning of  colloquialisms like “fangin”, “celesbian”, “Fag hag”, “soft boi” and others, which added to the pleasure of the work.

Part three is the most experimental and inventive, with strong and original imagination at play:

fear of licking stamps in public.  humidity that sticks to your 
lungs.  curdled caramel.  anxiety that tugs at you in sleep.
paranoia so strong you think your neighbour stole the stain
remover.  delinquent emus.  photos of your ex wearing the
t-shirt you left behind. (“sometime around midnight”)

Even the “Notes” in Ask Me About My Future are interesting, Jessen gives a detailed explanation of sources where she utilised content or inspiration for the various ‘found poems’ and an ‘erasure poem’.  It was very satisfying to read a book with such a display of creativity and innovation, and at the same time so real and human. Highly recommended. 

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is an award-winning poet, she writes poetry, fiction, reviews and plays. The author’s books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Under the Gums Long Shade, Forbidden Steps Under the Wisteria, A Call to the Stars translated and published in China and Taiwan, Witches Women and Words, No Salami Fairy Bread, Rambles, Renacer en Azul and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish).  Copello’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications. The author has participated in international conferences, has taught Creative Writing at W.S.U. and other scholarly institutions, she has read her poetry at Writers Festivals and other poetry events in Australia and overseas. Copello is mentioned amongst the forty “most notable people” graduated from the University of Technology.