Woman in Verse: Marly Youmans' Claire
Louisiana State University Press, 2004.
52 pages, $15.95 (paperback).
Marly Youmans' first poetry collection, Claire, is a graceful debut blending romanticism and a formal temper to describe a woman's coming of age. Dreams, tales, doors, night skies, ice, births, and deaths, all follow Claire Ann, the "lepidopteran" character whose "songs" unite the collection. Through centuries and seasons, readers glimpse facets of Claire's elusive "ancient single self, / Toy queen of glass who broke to babel all / These casts of mind?"
The book's finest selections crystallize that self for fleeting moments. The jazzy "Piano Rag" captures a childhood romp under "curls of leaf / And dusty light," whereas the blank verse of "The Locomotive Song" records "hear[ing] the tremulous sound flower / and widen in moonshine" as the night train passes. The adult poems layer that innocence with loss. Despite the merry rhythm of "At the Glass Doors," the "blazing" autumn moon has gone to "milkglass in the trees." In the somber couplets of "Living in a Dead Friend's House," Claire grows from fearing ghosts to longing to "see a face at panes."
Claire is an unresolved tale in images, and some of its loveliest poems fragment the book's scheme. Among others, "Ellen Cameron White," a haunting free verse narrative about the death of a woman's fiancé, and "Arrowhead," energetic couplets comparing a man's farm to the sea, thrum with significance that never breaks the collection's surface.
Nonetheless, there is much to admire in Claire—strong versification, sharp and interesting images, and a feminine voice whose negotiation of being human will invite readers to return to her songs again and again.