Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
A Tide Should Be Able to Rise Despite Its Moon
By Jessica Bell
Vine Leaves Press
ISBN: 978-3-98832-094-0, Jan 2023, Paperback
Jessica Bell is quite the polymath, or as she puts it, multipreneur. Not only is she a singer, songwriter, voice-over actor, graphic designer, teacher, coach, co-founder of Vine Leaves Press, and author of books of many different genres from memoir, sci fi, fiction, a wide range of nonfiction how-tos, and poetry, but she has managed to do all of those things to a very high professional level, winning many awards. A Tide Should be Able to Rise Despite Its Moon is Bell’s first book of poetry in over ten years, but regardless of where her extensive creative practice takes her, her work has always reflected a poetic sensibility, so it feels almost like this is her centrepoint.
A Tide Should Be Able to Rise Despite Its Moon Is written loosely around the theme of motherhood. The forty short, untitled poems are warm in tone but never overly syrupy. The work is almost deliberately rooted in ‘beginner’s mind’ – examining the world through the eyes of a child and finding wonder in the ordinary. This sense of wonder can come from anything, from an old photo reel, to balls that have fallen rom the shelf, trees in a park, rocks by a lake, throwing skimming stones, or even listening to a noisy fridge. There is always a little magic below the surface – a link with the earth, ancestors, and something eternal:
It slips and glides across the bay—
an infinite shawl of purple silk
glimmering under the blood red moon.
There are multiple quiet epiphanies in A Tide Should Be Able to Rise Despite Its Moon. These happen at unexpected times, peak moments of tension where a zen-like transformation causes the world to temporarily blur and some form of reality appear:
These vehicles of my soul,
detach and dissipate,
my art and mind; momentarily
The work is charged by the natural world, seen at times simultaneously through a child’s eye and an adults, the perspective wavering in and out. The lake, a storm, rocks, insects, trees and the sea, which forms its own backdrop to the work, both as something to watch and live by and something that’s internal:
The road you walk is not chiselled
It is an ocean; a body.
It is not a road at all.
It is you.
Most of the poems in the collection are uplifting, but there are darker pieces as well: an act of road rage (ending in a handshake), fear, frustration, and intense self-doubt, but even in the darker moments, there is a strong thread of droll humour, keeping the tone light. This often comes from Bell’s son Madoc and the clever, funny things he says:
I will not hear another word.
Not about the yellow blow-up duck pool.
They’ll have to work around the last place
his tiny soft feet splashed.
Madoc is the focal point of the book, from his funny Poet-Tree image at the back of the collection, to his perception, his toys and books, his old-soul and humorous observations, his explorations of the world, and even his perspective as he is baptised, but A Tide Should be Able to Rise Despite Its Moon is not only about motherhood. Many of the poems explore the creative process and its challenges, from trying to balance creative work with parenting and other distractions, to self-sabotage, insecurity, lack of music practice, weight gain, sluggishness, the kind of brain fog that we all experience while struggling to find the right way to express things:
Why is it clichéd to admire the sea
and how it glistens under the sun?
Though it is short enough to be a chapbook, A Tide Should be Able to Rise Despite its Moon is densely packed, rich in detail, engaging and moving. It’s the kind of book that would appeal to most readers, as it manages a perfect balance between complexity and simple domesticity. Bell takes the substance of everyday life with a young child and turn it into something transformative that hints at what it means to be a human being in this world.