Review: Uncontested Grounds by William Conelly

By : May 1, 2015

These are fine, subtle, graceful, insightful poems, rich in imagery and insight. I’ve been reading them over and over for a month without tiring. Some of these poems are worth the price of the book by themselves, like “Intuition,” which seems to me to be one of the finest examples of dramatic irony since Robert Browning, “Separates,” about the dynamics of a long term marriage, and “Sea Change.”

Conelly spent some time in the United States Air Force, not necessarily happily, although I do not know that story. Five of the poems here are war poems.

“R & R” imagines the state of mind of a soldier on a shore expecting some healing that does not occur. “The Lead Man” tells or imagines the death in Viet Nam of an Air Force pilot. “Ernest in Elysium” was published and is available here at PoetsandWar. “No Civil War” is a more contemporary or universal story that will sound familiar to anyone who reads world news about low intensity conflicts, civil wars, insurgencies, road blocks, ambushes, and militias. “Remembering War” is a fine reworking of a centuries-old Arabic poem.

Most of the poems here are not war poems. Conelly writes about the relationships of men and women, his (or more accurately his poems’ speaker’s) unresolved relationship with his father, what can be learned from opening your mind at the shore, late-in-life premonitions about mortality, and various interstices, such as between sea and sky, or shore and sea — most wonderfully those rich and bewildering moments between sleeping and waking.

Some of Conelly’s poems are like short stories, brief narratives or vignettes about men and women doing either ordinary tasks (swimming, taking photographs, waiting at airport gates) or singular tasks (preparing to die or give birth, piloting an air strike).

William Conelly will especially appeal to readers who enjoy graceful modern takes on formalism rather than first-draft demotic free verse, who prefer rich ambiguity rather than simplistic declamations, and who are interested in universal experiences rather than a stranger’s self-indulgent diary entries.

The poems suggest that William Conelly is modest, perhaps even reticent, observant, wry, honest with himself and with his reader, and perceptive. In short, a good companion. Yesterday I spent more on a haircut than this book costs. If you have to choose one, skip the haircut.

Leave a Reply