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The Exiles’ Gallery

by Elise Partridge

Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world,” writes author and critic Paul Goodman. Elise Partridge’s third and final book of poetry (the poet died of cancer in January) is filled with both the voice and silence of the newly departed. Her poems are her way of being in the world while drifting out of it. Partridge deeply embeds her lines in image-as-experience. She begins the collection with a vivid remembrance of a scene: “The ancient bayside city in a balmy palette: / peach facades, a fuchsia door, / boys flipping open a creel.” Later in the poem she notes, “Just one painting by an amateur: / pads of cumuli; heeling on cobalt waves.”

The Exiles’ Gallery (Elise Partridge) coverIn these very preliminary lines, a sense of the poet emerges. She appears as the embodiment of the amateur still toiling at her craft. Yet, the profuse skill in these poems denies the claim to amateurism. Within her stanzas, Partridge frequently uses a structural form of internal and end rhyme that denies conventional definition – what might be dubbed the Elisian stanza. These formal constraints, combined with fresh description, fashion The Exiles’ Gallery as a poets’ poetry collection, infused with both an appreciative eye and sorrowful surrender.

“Biography” grapples with fear and magic realism: “Wished I could bury myself / in a sugarbowl, / safe from the giants’ rage / down my porcelain well.” Moments such as these offer insight into the author’s altered perception of life with a terminal disease. This perspective continues forcefully and gently, and cumulates in “Terminal,” in which the author watches a spider and a moth in porch light: “Now both wings / are trussed, the meal strung / at the web’s heart, / antennae / lashed. The moth shoves / out her proboscis, rampant, giving / tongue.”

I could not help but admire the poet for her comparisons. I see her as the moth, trussed up and waiting for imminent death, yet thrusting this last bit of human creation into the world before that spider comes. She does not blame the spider, just gives the gift of this last speech.