sarah gilbert's Reviews > Clamor: Poems

Clamor by Elyse Fenton
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's review
Jan 29, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: the-waiting-wife

I am a devotee of poetry read out loud by its author, and that is how I have fallen in love before, and that is how I fell in love with Elyse Fenton. Surely the pieces I heard, on the BBC, on NPR, on OPB -- when I called and spoke with her and found the discussion just like a poem's first rough draft, quiet and whole without quite saying the things you want to say -- were lovely and wracked with grief and death.

And this is perhaps the thing. The poems are all, all about death, and some of that death is of course metaphorical and ripped through with life but most of it is either real or imagined and expected. She loves her husband; her husband is at war; he wraps gauze around bodies. There is a noise in her head and a stillness in her heart, and this is clamor.

I loved many of the poems; I loved the images of seedlings and weedy belts and the gloved thumbs of leaves and Live Oak, Live Low Cumulus, Live Sun. I loved the crows throughout the book, tree-fulls, waking squawks, beggaring in fuselages. I loved the words: chthonic, pellicle, cenotaph, caesura, kerf, caul. She loves the words, too, using them like rosary beads, Rorschach, tongue, flesh, thigh, clamor. And everything is on fire.

But she is young; her hero comes back scathed only from re-entry; it is not as if he spent long hours battling other fleshy, bloody humans; so her best poems are not of her own fears and "infidelities" (dreaming, always, of the death of her husband -- and not of him coming home whole) and loneliness, of the terror of his days, but of the terror of others' days, the quiet of a day when he is returned. 'Persephone as a Model for the Soldier, Returned,' is almost right, almost what I love about her. But so often she reaches for the death-image and this somehow has me wrinkling my brow. What do you know of death!? I want to ask. (Not that I know.) But then: she sings slow and lovely in her poems about other people, about Live Oaks, about coffee.

She has a mastery of word and image that is precocious, surely; her poems are many-layered; she paints with myth and dictionary. She sometimes slips into the precious, the too-wide-eyed, the innocent. She is, indeed, innocent of all this war; but connected through this boy-soldier-husband's thread; this is an important voice but a shy and unseasoned one. I'll be interested to read her poems when she's 40.

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Reading Progress

January 29, 2011 – Shelved
February 8, 2011 – Started Reading
February 8, 2011 –
page 48
62.34% "what, elyse? what are you doing here? you are gorgeous, you are formidably classical, you know words through to their backskins. why do you do this, with the shocking cock, the bodybags and imagined death everywhere, always February, always dashing off at the end so I'm never sure if the poem is done or forever arrested-- (you see?) & do other poets use their words so much? I like to be parsimonious with words..."
February 8, 2011 – Shelved as: the-waiting-wife
February 8, 2011 –
page 77
100.0% "read 'coffee' steeping *my* coffee and had to read it three times to unpack Fenton's images. I'm not sure how much I love this? it should be 'wholly,' and it's not. I see her final 'Roll Call,' and it disappoints me, again the shock of death-although-there-is-no-death. what am I missing? an older poet, perhaps, a longer view. that is the trouble with young and brilliant poets. they are so rarely old."
February 8, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-1)

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sarah gilbert ... and, you know, clamor is such a lovely word that I wish you'd save it to pierce me, once in a long while, rip out my heart. Instead, I'm rubbed all over in it, like peanut butter and honey on soft bread. sticky.

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