Vertebrae | Ashley Trabue

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on Vertebrae

“I feel these poems the most in my jaw.  Perhaps because the mandible appears to bloom from the spine. Or perhaps it’s because Trabue seems to allow everything within her a chance to claw its way out of her mouth, and my jaw burns with that same desire.

 The way these poems in Trabue’s debut chapbook stack upon one another, the way the lines within them misalign and break are not the upright spinal column we immediately recall when we hear the title Vertebrae. They’re stronger, sturdier, perfectly articulated and complete with the right types of holes—the spaces where air whistles sweetly through them. Trabue writes viscerally into places normally illuminated in x-rays and scans. She gives flesh and tendons and stretch to even those tight and beloved dwellings, embracing the female body and all of its complexities. The sweat of its relationships. The blood it knows well. The minds it molds. The coming into itself. The bodies it receives. The bodies it bears. And the loss.

 Trabue plucks imagery so precisely and cleanly from a wonderful and wild field of coneflowers, waxflowers and honeysuckle, even ragweed and bluegrass—those surprising moments like premature corpses “ripe for slicing” or sunlight that wrecks. All of it feels like a necessary field, worthy of repeat visits so that we might learn to honor imagery when it meets us in the way that she does. We watch the main speaker of these poems lengthen in this book, with threads like a spine slowly erecting themselves throughout the work. The amount of courage it takes to play so carefully with personal truth gives me full confidence, however, that Trabue is not building a backbone, as the subtitle might imply. She’s standing, or sometimes lying prostrate flat against a finished oak floor, but with all of her bones unsplintered and reaching.”

-Ciona Rouse


“Trabue’s debut is self-assured, disjunctive, gnarly-fisted, brave, and nuanced--a daughter “ripe for slicing,” a dancer “alone in rooms / lined in mirrors,” a dead classroom fish that “fertilizes the zinnias sown by a herd of small / humans.” Both rich with pathos and ripe with courage, Trabue’s poems--if womanhood, if daughterhood, if art and teaching, if mother-to-daughter-to-culture--ache with absolute faith in empathy’s limitless but improbable possibilities: “it takes work not to make it / all about us.” What a beautiful, honest, striking collection--it takes its place on the shelf next to Mary Ann Samyn and Catherine Barnett and Julia Story. With vision, with ruthless spiritual economy, and with the courage and the care to say so, Trabue has written an ode to that which stands us upright.”

-Gary McDowell, author of Mysteries in a World that Thinks There Are None"



"If, like poet Ashley Trabue suggests, “we are all consumed by something,” readers of Vertebrae should prepare themselves to be consumed. These body-centric poems rise “ruby-throated and hungry,” revealing a deep self-reflection and personal confession that pushes against a past too small to contain them. “I only know what it is to be me,” the poet says, and yet somehow, Trabue has found a way to be all of us in our youthful naiveté and adolescent doubt, in our need to be more than just skin. No longer “a wreck to be swept from the road,” this poet claims something other than a simple awakening, declaring “I owe no one space within my bones.” Indeed, these poems stand straight and tall all on their own.”

 -Sandy Coomer, Rivers Within Us


"Ashley writes like she exists: calm, cool, real and sharp. This is a beautiful collection of poems on becoming and unbecoming; on growing into and out of yourself all at the same time. Vertebrae has a pulse, carrying us through both monumental and ordinary moments, exploring the realities that form the backbone of our own personal existence and sense of belonging. These poems, and her art, are a gift to women on their long journey home to themselves, back into their own arms."

 -Chelsey Reardon, poet, creator of You Pick Self Care