Elyse Fenton’s first book of poems, Clamor, features some of the finest contemporary poetry on war. She captures both the battlefield and the homefront with an unwavering realism. Her imagery is fresh and her language rich.
Fenton opens her book with a definition of the word “clamor” which is quite striking. Laid side-by-side the three definitions—a noisy shouting, insistent public expression, and silence—are not only surprising to the reader, but also instantly establish the tone of the collection. These poems are about the chaos surrounding contradiction, expression, love and silence.
“Gratitude,” the first poem in Clamor, captures the aforementioned themes with perfectly selected diction and unsettling images. “Wreckage was still smoldering on the airport road / when they delivered that soldier—beyond recognition,” and “And I love you more for holding the last good flesh/of that soldier’s cock in your hands, for startling his warm blood/back to life,” are lines that depict the mix of the macabre and the emotion that those in, or dealing with, war witness. The soldiers and their loved ones back home are forced to live in “that moment just before we think/the end will never come and then/the moment when it does.”
One of the best lines in the collection is in “Your Plane Arrives from Iraq for the Last Time.” In this piece, the speaker is hypersensitive to the ongoings of objects around him or her, which leads to some superb and original descriptions, including “caesura of rotors” and “the road toward post/needle-pricked in brake lights.” The poem ends with: “And at the end/of the longest sentence I’ve ever known/your face in the window’s fogged aperture/stranded noun. Rorschach of stars. Beautiful thing.” With the paring down of the language in the phrase “beautiful thing” we are really given a sense of the speaker’s state of mind. After describing everything so vividly, we are left with a simple phrase that truly captures the speaker’s devotion and longing for the returning soldier.
Fenton’s use of language and mastery of craft dominant the entire collection and also helped her to win the Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize, which was judged by D.A. Powell.
Anyone interested in war, particularly the invasion of Iraq, and its affect on those at home and overseas should pick up this collection. It is a testament to the passion and good that exists in this world, in spite of destruction.