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Obligations of Voice

If we are to speak, what is it we must speak? If we are allowed to speak, what is it we must say? Who constitutes the ‘we’ that speaks? Anne Elvey’s new collection frames such questions against the contemporary world and its multiple challenges. These poems in turn explore environmental encounters, subtle and overt expressions of the political, the elisions of history, the embodiment of the world and the nature of grace, through poetry sharply attuned to its subject matter. For Elvey, poetry has an obligation not only to chart intimate moments, but also to draw those moments towards the numinous matter of our Earthy habitats.

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98 June 2021 9780645008937 , ,
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If we are to speak, what is it we must speak? If we are allowed to speak, what is it we must say? Who constitutes the ‘we’ that speaks? Anne Elvey’s new collection frames such questions against the contemporary world and its multiple challenges. These poems in turn explore environmental encounters, subtle and overt expressions of the political, the elisions of history, the embodiment of the world and the nature of grace, through poetry sharply attuned to its subject matter. For Elvey, poetry has an obligation not only to chart intimate moments, but also to draw those moments towards the numinous matter of our Earthy habitats.

‘Obligations of Voice is about the responsibility of poetry pushing against its urge for dissension as much as about the obligation to speak out about what we know is right or wrong. What makes this collection so vibrant is the tension of form — of how to contain the immense range of intellectual, physical and emotional responses to embodiment in an unjust world. From tightly held short lines to lines breaking up across the field of the page, to prose poems that seek to test their confinements, to lines as units of thought resisting shutting down under pressure, we encounter the disturbances of obligation. Obligation itself is not straight forward — there is a friction between what we know we should do, and how we go about it. These poems are both pragmatic acts of observation and protest, and also troubled moments of reckoning, and so often about loss. There is a theology at work across the different inflections of experiencing and recording, but the nature of that theology is open, full of wonder, and also determination to resist controlling systems, to allow the brilliance of the natural world to shine through even at moment of crisis. But in doing this the human crisis and human-induced crisis is never avoided. Anne Elvey’s is a nuanced position of obligation, and this work is her strongest exemplification of a poetics of commitment.’

John Kinsella

‘Anne Elvey has mastered the certainties of poetry; she can now un-do them. This book is not interested in seeking poetic reductions: it grabs at goodness and pain, regret and reflection that cannot be held down. Obligations admit responsibility to others – to Country as a guest, to children, animals and faith. The obligations of Elvey’s voice include speaking out as well as listening. That is why wind is a persistent element throughout these poems: above human cruelty or grace, it meets the poet’s voice with its own.’

Bonny Cassidy

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