Elise Partridge’s The Exiles’ Gallery is her third and sadly final book, since Partridge passed away earlier this year.
The collection sparkles with small treasures. The speaker of one poem thinks of the moon and sees “Armstrong / bounding across its crust, / boldly gone.” So much is packed in what might otherwise simply be a throwaway Star Trek allusion, from amazement at the cultural achievement to disappointment in how it hasn’t had a real effect on anyone’s life.
This is the operation of so many of Partridge’s poems: to present some small, easily overlooked image or turn of phrase that, when noticed, explodes an otherwise tight-laced poem.
In another poem, a speaker from the year 5002 wonders if the drains in a 2000-era swimming pool “might have caught blood.” This comical confusion bears behind it the weight of today’s environmental disasters, human rights issues, and Western exploitation of the so-called “third world.”
Dense but airy, The Exiles’ Gallery is a major achievement.