Joel Brouwer’s recent review of Elizabeth Arnold’s Effacement [“Five Books,” February 2011] provides an excellent and useful description of the book’s themes and how its poems are made. Yet, I thought his identification and evaluation of the book’s tone missed the mark. Brouwer finds coldness and impartiality. I wonder, though, if it is simply a failure to completely appreciate the book’s temperament. Perhaps too much ironic deflection has lessened our ability as a culture to be perceptive to seriousness and to tones of feeling that aren’t flashy and loud. In this regard, Arnold’s poetry is perhaps a corrective.
I find the poems in Effacement to be deeply felt, moving, and emotionally invested in their subjects. The emotion is calibrated to the compression of the poetry, so what might appear as intellection and detachment when compared with the common poetry of our moment becomes, in the world of Arnold’s poems, a rich and tonally complex imagination. In fact, I can’t think of the last time I saw an exclamation point used in a poem and actually believed the poet, but with Elizabeth Arnold I am convinced of the sincere astonishment. Hers is a poetry of astonishment at the complete range of human thinking and feeling.