Even in peacetime, many women find themselves isolated in a wartime of their own when their loved ones are involved in conflicts overseas. As mothers or wives they live in a state of separation, from husbands, sons or daughters in permanent danger – or so they feel – as well as from an often alienating everyday world of people who have no idea of what anxieties and fears grip them every minute. They also find themselves switching back and forth between two time zones, between the present moment and what might have been happening several hours ago in the Middle East.
Home Front presents the poetry of four such women, Bryony Doran and Isabel Palmer, both mothers of young British soldiers serving in Afghanistan; and two American poets, Jehanne Dubrow, wife of a serving US naval officer deployed to the Persian Gulf and other conflict zones, and Elyse Fenton, wife of a US army medic posted to Iraq. It brings together four full-length collections by these writers; those by the two British poets are debut collections first published in full in this book.
The poems in Bryony Doran’s Bulletproof tell a chronological story, from her son’s unexpected decision to join the army through his tour in and return from Afghanistan. Covering every emotion from fear to fury, yet lifted by humour and details of everyday domestic life, these are poems written to preserve a pacifist mother’s sanity as each day plays itself out. They show her coping with The News, her fantasies, his short spells of home leave, and her realisation that both are imprisoned in a modern myth.
The narrative in Isabel Palmer’s Atmospherics begins with seeing her only son go to war in Afghanistan soon after his 21st birthday in 2011 and ends with his final, safe return in 2015. His role there was to lead foot patrols and to operate machines for detecting improvised explosive devices. While he was on tour, she wrote one poem every week reflecting on their experiences. The earlier poems appeared in Ground Signs (Flarestack Poets, 2014), a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice.
Driven by intellectual curiosity and emotional exploration, the poems in Jehanne Dubrow’s Stateside (2010) are remarkable for their subtlety, sensual imagery and technical control. The speaker attempts to understand her own life through the long history of military wives left to wait and wonder, invoking Penelope’s plight in Homer’s Odyssey as a model but also as a source of mystery. Dubrow is fearless in her contemplation of the far-reaching effects of war but even more so in her excavation of a marriage under duress.
At times quiet, at others cacophonous, the poems of Elyse Fenton’s Clamor turn a lyric lens on the language we use to talk about war and atrocity, and the irreconcilable rifts – between lover and beloved, word and thing – such work unearths. Originally published in the US – but not in the UK – in 2010, Clamor was the first book of poetry to win Britain’s Dylan Thomas Prize.
Ruth Padel on Bryony Doran’s Bulletproof:
‘A unique collection, telling a story as old as poetry itself but also horribly contemporary. Spare, compassionate, calmly crafted and sometimes funny, but also gripping and very moving, the poems introduce us to a dry, fresh and unmistakably original voice.’
Denise Saul & Luke Kennard (PBS Bulletin) on Isabel Palmer:
‘A powerful poetic sequence… Several poems are close to heartbreaking… Ground Signs is an emotionally raw, uncompromising portrayal which is nonetheless crafted by a uniquely lyrical sensibility, and it’s that ability to handle the material with such care which gives the sequence its power.’
Sam Hamill on Jehanne Dubrow’s Stateside:
‘The formalities of structure – rhyme and metre – play against the formalities imposed upon the life of a military wife. There are poems in marching metres and poems that provide counterpoint to those rhythms, but, most of all, hers is a fully experienced suite, fully composed in every sense of that word, both intimate and public, an accomplished book. She is a contemporary Penelope whose tale is epic.’
Dorianne Laux on Elyse Fenton’s Clamor:
‘The astonishing paradox of Elyse Fenton’s Clamor lies in its raw, disturbing subject matter: the Iraq war, the body’s destruction, desolation, and grief, set against an achingly beautiful love poetry… Fenton deftly and unabashedly tells a story of passion and doubt, of the terrible waiting and an otherworldly reunion, what we are capable of doing to and for each other, and what we do to endure.’