Momentum and Breath: on Elise Partridge’s The If Borderlands & Stephen Kampa’s Articulate as Rain (Review by Kjerstin Kauffman in Literary Matters 11.1, Fall 2018)

The If Borderlands: Collected Poems
By Elise Partridge
(New York Review of Books, 272pp., $16.00)

Articulate as Rain
By Stephen Kampa
(Waywiser Press, 96pp., $14.25)

It’s been a long time since I’ve been as riveted by a poetry collection as I was by The If Borderlands. Elise Partridge’s work is mostly new to me, but it possesses such meticulous, formally attentive understatement, such a range of subject matter, and such philosophical curiosity and wisdom, that it is surely the equal, to my mind, of poetic thinkers like Clampitt, Bishop, and Schnackenberg.

Here are the “endless heroic observations” which Bishop so admires, the minute and almost indiscriminate detailing which lead the reader up to the brink of a wild “unknown.”1Partridge shares Bishop’s uncanny ability to notice and record, unpacking the natural world, the essential character of a friend, or the bewildering sensations of chemotherapy with, as Bishop praises, “self-forgetful” verbal precision.

Yet though her detailing brings Bishop to mind, Partridge’s music and movement strike me as peculiar, idiosyncratic. Her poems have a kind of static or iconic quality, as of something animate permanently immobilized, yet still, against the odds, proliferating. For her, it is not momentum, but lack of momentum that proves fruitful…more