Jane Elkington Wohl’s poems contrast the
ongoing natures of life and war.

“Triage,” the introductory poem in Jane Elkington Wohl’s new collection, is about sorting of various kinds, including sorting the living from the dead. After this introduction, the book, also named Triage, is divided into two parts, each starting with a 12-sonnet cycle concerning the ongoing war in Iraq. These sonnets meditate on the meaning of the war, and on the contrast between the peaceful world of finches, poppies, and students on the one hand and the horrors of the conflict on the other.

There’s strong irony in the first sonnet’s first sentence, “I find no poetry in this.” The last sonnet in this sequence returns to the irony in its last line: “It isn’t difficult to miss/that it’s hard to find real poetry in this.” Wohl has indeed found real poetry in this. It’s dark, it’s sad, it’s angry, and it’s political, but it is poetry.

In addition to the politics, Triage is also about the poet’s ongoing spiritual journey. She writes of epiphany in such poems as “In the Desert” and “Communion.” Nature abides, in contrast to the unnatural war. (Ironically, war imitates nature: it carries on too, and it blooms.) The landscapes in the poet’s world are beautiful, even if they’re sometimes dark, as in “The River’s Edge.” “Only Beauty” shows us we must find beauty where it is, even if it’s not where we’re trained to find it.

In this book full of leitmotifs—recurring owls, poppies, burning bushes, students—the narratives focus in on moments of change. But for all the spiritual changes, and all the leitmotifs, we are compelled to return to a poetic dismay over the mess war has made in Iraq. Triage is an important book.

Jane Elkington Wohl
is an English Instructor at Sheridan College and a Creative Writing Instructor for the Goddard College M.F.A. in Writing Program. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and quarterlies, and she is the author of the poetry collection Beasts in Snow, published by High Plains Press. She lives and writes in Sheridan, Wyoming.

by Jane Elkington Wohl
ISBN 978-1-56474-520-0
80 pages, paperback, $14.00

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