In Home Front, four collections of poetry by mothers and wives of men at war in the Middle East are brought together. It’s an interesting idea that makes for good reading.
Isabel Palmer’s collection, Atmospherics, opens the book. Her poems are good at picking out details only a mother of a son at war would recognise, and she uses them to bring parts of her poems to life, which she does excellently in the poem Worst Case Scenario. Fear and anxiety, expectedly, are themes that run throughout Home Front, but Palmer’s collection is executed differently, and often her poems read like she’s trying to keep her mind off her son’s departure but by the end of each poem has involuntarily come back to it. The impact of Palmer’s poems varies, but poems like Glossolalia, BFPO and Blueprint make her collection a good insight into her experience.
Bryony Doran’s collection, Bulletproof, largely describes how the army and war changed her son and her own experiences of anxiety. The poem Joining Up contains snapshots of this, while First Call Home puts the reader in her shoes as it is told in the voice of her son. Doran’s poems at times bring the reader into a painful reality, such as in Tips for Parents of Returning Soldiers, which has the uncomfortable well-known fact that more soldiers have committed suicide than have died in Afghanistan. Avoiding Traffic Accidents bares the lesser known fact that more soldiers have died in motorbike accidents upon returning home than have died in Afghanistan. The urge for reassurance for mothers of children at war is well expressed in Snow on the Line, and A Dancer is one of the strongest poems in Bulletproof and Home Front. It’s told in the least words but expresses better than any other poem how Doran’s son changed after joining the army.
Jehanne Dubrow’s collection, Stateside, is from a different angle of the previous two as she is married to a husband at war. Her writing reads delicately and creates a clear picture of her experience. The poem A Short Study on Catastrophe expresses real fear and causes the reader to feel like they are there with the writer. Ithaca is an interesting poem that shows how wives of men at war can feel trapped, while Penelope, Stateside is also unique and is the only poem in the book to look at the intimate anticipation military wives can have and how this desire can be dampened by reality. The poem Stateside is one of the most memorable of Home Front. It describes her as being stretched apart from her husband and touches on how terms change when you have a husband at war:
instead of lover,
stateside instead of overseas.”
Clamor by Elyse Fenton closes Home Front. It’s an observant collection that feels close to the experience of war. Planting, Hayhurst Farm is one such poem. It describes her action on a farm in a way that evokes a feeling of war despite her being physically away from it. Like Jehanne Dubrow, Fenton is waiting for her husband to return. She creates images of this waiting well and in a cold manner, For L., In Baghdad is a good example of this, while poems like Mercy, Conversation and Infidelity are some of the most, if not the most, thought provoking poems in Home Front.
Like all poetry collections, not all of the poems in Home Front are memorable, and some have a greater impact than others, but the variety of Home Front keeps the book enjoyable, and after finishing it I was left with a slight urge to read poems by soldiers at war to see the fears the women in the book were experiencing.
Home Front looks at modern war poetry with a different eye. It’s a collection that feels necessary and one that successfully shows readers through poetry how people can be affected when separated from loved ones because of war.
- Buy the book: Bloodaxe Books
- Favourite quote: “His army issue underpants / spill tiny white beads over the landing carpet. They’re special, he says. Saves yer manhood if yer legs get blown off.”
Have you read Home Front? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments