Chameleon Hours, Elise Partridge's follow-up to her much-admired Fielder's Choice (2002), is evidence that lyric poetry -- clean, bracing, unadorned -- truly can be equal to challenging subject matter. In these poems, love for friends, family, and partners, and most impressively, the urge to love strangers in need, kindles the fire of the voice. Partridge's poems see the world in its particulars, and offer a kind of fidelity to small and contingent details.
Full of wit and empathy, yet utterly free of the sensationalism that mars so much of contemporary verse, Elise Partridge's poems draw inspiration from sources as whimsical as snails and frogs, as poignant as a homeless woman taking shelter inside a post office on a winter night, and as deeply personal as her own cancer diagnosis at a relatively young age. Her poetry gives us a steadiness of vision, and reminds us we live among treasures.
"A strong tradition in poetry concentrates on the precisely detailed description of the natural world, with emotion seeming to come from the narrated, visual experience itself, rather than from the words that report it...In their ample, embracing, nuanced appetite for sensory experience, [Elise Partridge's] poems achieve an ardent, compassionate and unsentimental vision." —Washington Post
"A thrilling, memorable volume." —Robert Pinsky
"Partridge is a technical wizard for whom thinking and feeling are not separate activities. She is a hawk-like observer of the particular...many times ascending to pitch-perfect verse." —Globe and Mail
"Reading Chameleon Hours, I find myself marveling at the luck of each heron, mosquito, field of Queen Anne's Lace, each person, place, thing or circumstance in this beautiful book, to have Elise Partridge's exquisite and precise attention. And how lucky we are to get to listen in as she offers each of them her flawless ear." —New York Review of Books
Whether writing poems about North American life and landscape; or love poems; or elegies for family and friends; or poems on serious, debilitating illness and the transformations it can effect—Elise Partridge offers in Chameleon Hours words forged by suffering and courage. Full of wit and empathy, Partridge’s poems draw inspiration from sources as whimsical as tortoises and pontoons, as poignant as a homeless woman taking shelter inside a post office on a winter night, and as deeply personal as her own cancer diagnosis at a young age. Chameleon Hours is a book about the rewards of being reminded of one’s own mortality and the lyric expression of life in all its intensity.
“In their ample, embracing, nuanced appetite for sensory experience, [Partridge’s] poems achieve an ardent, compassionate and unsentimental vision.”—Robert Pinsky, Washington Post
“Partridge’s impressive poems pursue a careful thinker’s yearning for abandon, a loyal friend and partner’s wish for change. Attentive to fact, to what she sees and knows, Partridge nonetheless makes space for what is wild, outside and within us—for the fears and the blanks of chemotherapy, for sharp variations within (and without) frames of metre and rhyme, and for the welcome consistencies of married love. She has learned detail-work, and patience, from Elizabeth Bishop, but she has made other virtues her own: riffs on familiar phrases open startling vistas and even her love poems get attractively practical. Hers is a welcome invitation: let’s listen in.”—Stephen Burt
“Reading Chameleon Hours, I find myself marveling at the luck of each heron, mosquito, field of Queen Anne’s Lace, each person, place, thing or circumstance in this beautiful book, to have Elise Partridge’s exquisite and precise attention. And how lucky we are to get to listen in as she offers each of them her flawless ear; the book is full of understated sonic gems like ‘a kickball straight into pink lilac.’ In ‘Chemo Side Effects: Memory,’ after describing ‘groping in the thicket’ for ‘the word I want . . . scrabbling like a squirrel on the oak’s far side,’ she tells us ‘I could always pull the gift / from the lucky-dip barrel; scoop the right jewel / from my dragon’s trove. . . .’ We of course already know this. It’s evident in every one of these poems.”—Jacqueline Osherow