We seem to be enamored with short books bearing long titles, and Conyer Clayton’s We Shed Our Skin Like Dynamite is no exception. This debut full-length collection of poetry is part of Guernica Editions’ First Poets Series and can be found on the publisher’s website or at your local independent bookseller.
Clayton’s speaker intimately engages with many topics, from lovers to abortion, nature to death. There is a closeness that pervades through each poem, a love that need not be sexual (though it sometimes is) nor even always personal. It is captured in the couples who “exchange / loaded glances over freckled shoulders and distracted backs” (37), but equally in forests, rivers, and soil. The speaker links the corporeal and the ecological, the personal and the natural:
“Same earth of my body.
Same earth of her body.
Same earth of her ashes
into lakewater.” (25)
The line structure reflects this intimacy—careful, caring repetition that flows with gradually-shifting words like water at a lake’s estuary; a patient verb that lingers alone on its line.
If an intimate tone unifies this work’s content, then enjambment harmonizes the collection structurally. The book’s award-winning opener “Seeds” exemplifies this unity of form and content:
disturbing a mosquito
with potential babies.
What kind of father would you have been?” (13)
We feel the full stop; both reader and speaker know what the nest contains but the line’s spacing and, therefore, pacing allows us to experience the staggering weight of the connections being made. The shift in line length then acts as a pivot, moving us from metaphor to the first of many sincere questions asked by the speaker.
These questions lead to realizations, which are themselves amplified and multiplied through enjambment:
“… This is your real
home. You’ve never been
your own person.” (34, original italics)
The stanza break separates the notion of “the real” from the idea of the home, just as the following line break emphasises that to not be yourself is to have never been home. This doubling of meaning mirrors the other duplexities within the work.
We Shed Skin Like Dynamite brings together dualities, many of which are listed in the book’s back cover blurb (pictured below). But beyond these are the kindred voices, characters, spectres—the “you” and “I”; the “my” and “her”; the “ivy mammoth” brought down “with whirling blades” and the mother who “died last night in her sleep” in “Full Sunlight” (15).
Finally, each part of the collection is paired with an epigraph taken from one of its poems. Part I quotes “Our thoughts bound in the open air” but its source, “Trending Towards the Fall,” presents
“The only property that matters: our thoughts
bound in the open air.” (23)
The joyous leaping becomes a state of entrapment, the medium of that freedom becomes property. Delve into Clayton’s writing to discover the dualities of “this mess of skin” (50) and “How efficiently we grieve” (63) in parts II & III of this powerful debut.