changing with the tides Shelby Leigh Publisher: Gallery Books 128 p., Release date: July 12, 2022

To Make Waves Against the Current

Books & Literature Jan 1, 2024

by Blair E. Vandehey

To heal is a process. Some days, the journey proves to be smooth sailing, while on others, one is pitted up against a seemingly unrelenting current. Shelby Leigh knows this well, and in 2019, she shared her story with the world in her second collection of poetry. changing with the tides whisks the reader away on her path towards self-love and proves with a powerful grace that while the storm may weather, it cannot move her as it wills.

The collection is divided into two parts, respectively titled “the anchor” and “the sail.” True to its name, “the anchor” is about the people, experiences, and concepts of which have dragged Leigh down in her journey towards realizing herself once more. On the other hand, “the sail” is dedicated to the newfound wind beneath Leigh’s wings, be it overcoming those who have hurt her or recognizing all that has brought her this far.

Sectioning off a collection of poetry can be an effective way to signal a shift in mood or subject. That said, the transition can come abruptly, and such a sudden change can lead to awkward disconnects between the different parts. The shift from “the anchor” to “the sail” came naturally, however; Leigh slowly eases the reader into the hopeful mood of “the sail” by ending the section prior by asking forgiveness from her reflection in the mirror. To end “the anchor” by teasing brighter days ahead helps subdue the shift from wallowing in pain to searching for better tomorrows. Even within the sections, changing with the tides flows smoothly. This is best seen in “the sail,” where Leigh begins the section by returning to those she had already addressed in the first part and ends it by speaking to the future yet to come. As one turns the pages, the responses to those from “the anchor” slowly thin until they completely give way, avoiding the dramatic, shocking change that could have been. True to its title, Leigh’s mood in changing with the tides masterfully embodies the constant ebb and flow of a journey towards healing.

Connection is what Leigh does best in changing with the tides. She takes a self-reflexive approach by revisiting poems from “the anchor” in “the sail” with the grace that her healing process has taught her. In the final poem of “the anchor,” Leigh stands in front of a mirror and asks the woman looking back at her for forgiveness. While the poem could have been a brilliant standalone, the final page of changing with the tides is her reflection’s response. She sets herself apart from other writers this way; while many poets share their work and move on to the next page, Leigh finds the resolve not only to face those who hurt her – including herself – but achieves closure for both herself and the audience. Some poems from “the anchor” do not receive this treatment, leaving both author and reader off on a dissonant note, but it reflects the authenticity of a healing journey – it is ongoing and never immediate.

A poem in “the sail” titled “to the horizon” is a reminder to not mistake vulnerability for weakness. In just this one piece, Leigh’s tone throughout the entirety of changing with the tides, most noticeably in “the sail,” is summarized; she is forgiving, but also firm in her conviction that she is strong and will not let herself be anchored again. Instead of addressing those who have wronged her with malice, Leigh thanks them for helping her realize her own strength but reaffirms their bygone status in her story. Having established the harm done to her in “the anchor,” it would be easy to fall into the rut of stooping to their level and slinging malice back at them as some poets are prone to doing. If Leigh had done this, I would have understood her anger, but I would have also felt that she was betraying her claim; to say she was stronger than them as she used their own tactics would have been the easy way out. However, Leigh offering gratitude to those who inadvertently helped her grow as a person proves her strength tenfold. Only once she has thanked them does she leave them behind, paving her path towards a brighter future.

As its title suggests, Leigh’s changing with the tides masterfully encompasses the slow, ever-changing nature of the healing process as she transitions from bracing against the current to making her own waves.

changing with the tides Shelby Leigh Publisher: Gallery Books 128 p., Release date: July 12, 2022

Blair E. Vandehey is an Appleton-based writer, daydreamer, and lover of all things pop culture. She is currently working towards a degree in Creative Writing at Lawrence University.