Tender Hooks: Poems

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The author of only one other full-length collection of poems, Beth Ann Fennelly has made her mark as a first-rate poet with this tender and fiercely original book. The poems are focused around the birth of the author’s daughter, Claire, and although the poems are certainly of interest to new mothers, they are also of interest to anyone with a passion for poetry.

As with all good poems, the power lies not in the subject matter—motherhood, miscarriage, relationships—but in the language used to describe and give flesh to those abstractions. Fennelly’s talent lies in her ability to write with clarity and generosity about her own parenting skills, and her daughter’s arrival into this world. She uses humor, dramatic situations, and original insights to create and recreate for the reader the particulars of birth and childhood, from the birthing room, to the child’s “first crawl,” to the first words.

In the background and as a counter to the glee and exuberance of the Claire poems, Fennelly writes also about a miscarriage she suffered through. She writes about the miseries of life with equal verve as she does the joys. And she is aware that her poems about the miscarriage may seem too overwrought; “I’ve botched grief’s ratio. My failure/ of proportion surprising, shaming me.”

Fennelly writes beautifully, in free verse and in formal poems, and proves, over and over, that she is able to see clearly, and invent with strength and daring: bluebirds “gather pine straw and start to build,/ fastidious as tailors with pins in their mouths.” Fennelly has built poems that will last.