What does the end of the world really mean? In Ashley Cline’s chapbook electric infinities (Variant Literature, 2023), she works through this through a stunning use of naturalistic imagery, exploratory use of lineation within lines themselves, and toying with form to understand humans and their relationship with nature.
The collection itself begins with an invitation to listen to an author-curated playlist (an audio companion, if you will) that brings these pieces to a new level. Astonishing on their own, the well-thought-out addition of music brings a revelation to the art form of Cline’s poetic creations. As a mixed medium, it allows for wider connections to be made, echoing how people found peace during the uneasiness of the pandemic (or, how we thought the world would end). This comes at the intersection of poetry and music, in the form of art and creativity,
Overall, the pieces are well cared for and nurtured. Cline doesn’t shy away from her narrators discovering their deep connections with nature, perhaps something that comes to mind as the world is about to end; nature tends to be the force that withstands all, being the catalyst for such richly-inspired works flooded with its imagery.
Cline explores the ideas of where we come from and where we’re going, all with the suffocating feeling of it all coming to a crashing and devastating end. However, it’s easy to feel comfortable, perhaps, with the idea of impending doom. The poems that focus on this, in particular, the poems entitled “the way the universe will end, scenario no. 1-4,” don’t offer much panic. Instead, there’s a complacency in being able to give back the body of our narrator, our “I”, to the world that created it.
This relationship is explored throughout the collection and in lines such as “i will haunt these lemon groves sour / so save / the rinds & divide the flesh… / this is my body: now eat.” (“no pulp, or a lesson in permeance”), “i will place my head on the table / & i will simply leave it / there, forever / perhaps, one day, a flower will grow” (“the way the universe will end, scenario no. 2), and “because my mother willed me / into being. because my mother pulled me from the mud. because my / mother pushed me through wildness, honey-fanged & fallow” (“portrait with my mother’s hands”).
These relationships can also be found in smaller moments: “sing me back into the mud and clay” and “when i ask for fire, what i mean is singe my fingers back into forests” (“in lieu of singing “happy birthday”), “they unspool you from the ocean” (“after sputnik 2 returns to earth”) and throughout the entirety of “…until there is nothing left.”
All of these lines are full of purposeful line breaks within the line but continue flowing; perhaps a metaphor for the stillness and continuation of existence or nature, exploring deeper meanings of where life comes from and how interconnected we are as humans to nature. Nature that we take advantage of, no doubt, as well as nature that we seek out for self-preservation.
Cline works intricately to intertwine prose poetry with more traditional stanzas and lineation. This offers a comfortable flow to the structures of the collection overall, yet still allows for jarring sensations when switching to more unconventional structures, such as the rigidness of “the way the universe will end, scenario no. 4” or the creative checklist style of the collection’s opening, “checklist for the end of the world.”
The addition of field note poems offers a sort of intermission between sections. Still, these small pieces explore the wider topics previously mentioned in a depth not common for their short length. Cline offers an impressive view into the power of minimalistic language and the intricate stories told within them.
A standout piece within the collection is “…until there is nothing left.” Though not the final in the collection, this poem creates a sudden, drowning feeling of everything coming to an end. Unlike the poetry that comes before it, this poem brings the collection to a crescendo, crashing waves pulling us under the roaring ocean, allowing us to only know this is us stuck in finality; the reader never feels the sand at the bottom of the ocean as they drown, far too gone in the natural cycle of life and letting go in peace.
electric infinities offers peace in the chaos of existing within a world falling apart in destruction, brought on by carelessness and recklessness, or perhaps what was meant to be. It asks and answers questions, and then asks some more. “by now you know that anything can be beautiful inside of a poem—” like death, destruction, loss, “& so; you write yourself into one” to embrace the somber existence of reality (“the way the universe will end, scenario no. 1”).
Amber Alexander holds a B.A. in English with research distinction and triple minors (Creative Writing, Professional Writing, and History) from The Ohio State University. They plan to pursue graduate-level studies in the near future and currently works in higher education. They have previously worked on the Editorial Staff for Cornfield Review, where they have also been published. Alexander earned multiple awards for poetry, prose, playwriting, and creative nonfiction while an undergrad.