Uncontested Grounds is a splendid, memorable book. The stylistic precision and trim architecture of these poems may remind us of Edgar Bowers and other California formalists. William Conelly, however, has a voice all his own—shrewd, wry, engaging. Even in his more expansive pieces he writes with epigrammatic force. The perceptions fueling his art are equally alert to the world’s kindness and cruelty, and his work is impressive not only for its elegance but for its quality of lived experience—in short, for a kind of wisdom rarely found these days in verse.
—Robert B. Shaw
This generous collection of the poems of William Conelly is all the more welcome for being long overdue. Here is a poet who finds extraordinary dimensions in ordinary experience, as in “Treasure” and “The Ford Birthday Ode,” two memorable moments of childhood; as in “Aubade,” “The Sailor,” “Memento,” and “In the Ninth Month”—this last from the point of view of a woman about to give birth. Conelly commands both strict form and free verse, and his language is often fresh and unexpected. Uncontested Grounds will stand as a notable book in this or any year.
Midwestern by birth, William Conelly has lived on both US coasts, as well as in England and the Middle East. He is smart and imaginative, and brings a thriving intelligence to life’s experiences. I found the poems in Uncontested Grounds original, diverse, and lucid.
Many are poems of place. The first of these features a bankrupt farmer who ponders the “blue, remorseless beauty” that first lured him onto the stricken acreage he must sell. But the places vary, and some exude enchantment. I am taken by the touch of a drowsy wife’s feet in “Aubade,” and the couple along Florida’s “Gulf Coast” pitying “those who’ll wake alone.”
Conelly writes so well, in a variety of forms, I initially absorbed his insights heedless of their traditional underpinnings. These poems easily bear rereading then; they compose a fine selection from one of our best writers.
—William J. Smith