Away From Home
Contemporary poetry, that is literary poetry, has a strident streak of anti-pragmatism by which I mean that literary poetry is often less concerned with practical effects than it is with ruminating upon causes, whether those be subjective or objective. This isn’t to say that contemporary poetry is poor or fails, rather it’s a blindspot or a tick we readers need to become more aware of doing so is part of our literary symbiosis.
So, when one encounters poetry that has a set goal, not just intent but is a practical means to effect change, we ought to take notice. Joanne Clairmont’s Away From Home has a precise focus–homeless teens–which allows it to succeed on its own terms while being emotionally compelling. Clairmont’s collection is told in the voice of an archetype teen inhabiting that murky realm of being without a fixed home and without a grounding family. Her poetry gives us the inner emotional workings of a teen on the street, a teen navigating the foster system, and a teen finally able to feel secure and trusting of other.
The majority of the book are prose poems spoken in persona progressively divided. We begin with The Runaway Teenager (“Don’t try to find me, just leave me, I will find my way home”) proceeding to The Unaccompanied Minor, The Unsettled Teenager (“How did I land at your door”), The Settled Teenager who finally discovers room to breathe and think,
I try to block out my past and think of the future.
In you I trust for my hopes and dreams.
Dreams of becoming a Doctor, dreams of having a future.
Do you really care for me?
the longest section titled The Challenging Teenager, and eventually resolving with the Independent Teenager. What we see in these prose poems is a teen looking to not merely to express or articulate themselves but actively creating their foundation for trust and belonging. We hear their subjective stances, we can see just how being a presence that is open, honest, and patient allows an other to be come to be themselves without our being overbearing, or controlling.
Clairmont’s purpose is to give readers a sense of the panic, stubbornness, pessimism, hope, and desire for trust young adults experience. Any adolescent experiences a trying time of not being able to articulate what they are thinking and feeling and, more acutely, why they are thinking and feeling what they are. Few things will prompt anger and depression more than the inability to understand oneself, no matter age. Thus, these poems intend to give us a glimpse into the interior of runaway, street, and foster teens, the youth too often under-served or done a disservice by ourselves and institutions.
While perhaps not the most lyrically beautiful poetry, there is an urgency and emotive core to the poems of Away From Home. Clairmont it writing for an audience who works with teens but her poetry can be taken up by anyone who lives in close contact with youth (which is all of us). Her intent is to show how foster patience in ourselves can allow teens in time to learn for themselves how to build up trust. The empathy fostered by these poems shows us that “the rewards outweigh the challenges.”
Joanne Clairmont has been fostering teenagers for other a decade. She has spent over twenty years working for the public sector which included social services and probation. Clairmont has also spent a great deal of time working as a volunteer for Victim Support. She is passionate about seeing young people reach their full potential in society, and this can only be achieved if young people have a secure base.
♦◊◊◊◊–1 Star: Poorly conceived and written, not worth anyone’s time
♦♦◊◊◊–2 Stars: Limited audience, mediocre writing
♦♦♦◊◊–3 Stars: Solid writing, decent ideas and execution, genre appropriate
♦♦♦♦◊–4 Stars: Good writing, engaging ideas and execution
♦♦♦♦♦–5 Stars: Superb writing, excellent ideas and execution, appealing to all audiences