Review: Clamorby Ruben Quesada • 01.27.2012
The “unmuzzled throatful” of words soar from these pages. Elyse Fenton’s Clamor aligns itself with the contemporary witnessing of poets like Brian Turner, Matthew Doherty, Sinan Antoon, and Kent Johnson. In keeping with the tradition and pageantry of the human condition, Fenton’s debut collection breathes life into the smoldering heart of war.
The reader is presented with a speaker who resides on the home front waiting to be reunited with her beloved. Fenton’s portrayal of love, loss, and war are dynamically conveyed through lyrical and prose poems. A belief in the resiliency of words as more than symbols, Fenton’s love of language and life, resounds in “Love in Wartime (I).” Here, words represent sensations and emotions directly:
When I say you and I have to mean
not some signified presence, not
the striking of the same spent tinder
but your mouth & its live wetness, your tongue
& its intimate knowledge of flesh.
Words embody living moments of the mind; they must. It is a longing for the intimacy and for the physical presence of another half a world away that allow these words to be comforting. The poems in this collection reach out for those who escape our grasp, for those beyond the “rifle’s reach.” Deftly, the fabric of these poems hinge on moments of “Death so close you can reach out and touch a board / from the casket” (“The Riots in Bangalore”) or unfurl beneath “the wreckage / or papery flames, the falling arsenal of stars—” (“Refusing Beatrice”). It is these moments of passionate detail that map the journey of the speaker’s absent beloved.
The collection’s third and final section presents contemplative observations of a post solitary world, an imagined life of questionable hope, where “war is everywhere / at once….except there is no inviolable anything / and you’ve been home for a year.” Retreating to her passion for language in “Your Plane Arrives from Iraq for the Last Time,” Fenton describes the beloved’s arrival as,
of the longest sentence I’ve ever known
your face in the window’s fogged aperture:
stranded noun, Rorschach of stars. Beautiful thing.
This is a marvelous debut. Not surprisingly, this collection was the winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize, selected by D.A. Powell. Elyse Fenton’s attention to decorum and her sententious awareness to the human condition illuminate a difficult subject which is never extinguished.