Blue Yodel by Ansel Elkins is the winner of the 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. Elkins has earned degrees from Sarah Lawrence College and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her work has appeared in AGNI, The Believer, Best New Poets 2011, Ecotone, Guernica, Gulf Coast, theNorth American Review, the Southern Review, and others.
Finishing the year with a collection of poetry is a wonderful way to wrap up the old year and the Yale Series of Younger Poets never disappoints. Elkins collection is simply amazing in several ways. The imagery and emotion in the poems are superlative. Elkins southern roots come into play in several times. There are at least two mentions of pickup trucks that fit perfectly into the poems without sounding like a Country-Western song. In “Blues for the Death of the Sun” Elkins writes:
Across the blackened hills I hear a peacock holler his blue yodel
It is her only mention of the blue yodel. The Blue Yodel, however, is also a record album and the nickname of singer Jimmie Rodgers, who also frequented the same parts of the country as Elkins, decades earlier. There is, at times, a very Southern feel to her work.
Elkins also writes from a woman’s perspective. In “Autobiography of Eve,” Elkins takes a rebellious approach:
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace
“Werewolf in the Girl’s Dormitory” gives the lines:
The Reformatory School for Misbehaving Girls keeps its young
vixens walled in.
She’s wayward…in all the right ways.
There is a monumental darkness in some poems like “Tornado” where a small child is ripped from her mother’s arms by the fury of the storm. The reader is torn by the sadness and the beauty of the writing. “Ghost at My Door” brings the same mix of engaging verse and deep, dark, mourning. The poem “The Adventures of the Double-Headed Girl” takes the reader to the freak show, but releases him or her like seeds from a maple tree. The darkness is broken in a few places. “Real Housewives” takes the reader through divorce, a six inch stiletto shoe fight, and and a botched breast augmentation –“ OMG, the tete-a-tete of misaligned titties.”
Two of her poems are rapid-fire lines. Short burst of a few words in rapid succession: “Reverse: A Lynching” and “Thou Shall Not.” No matter what the subject, Elkin gives it elegance and imagery. It is difficult not to admire lines such as:
We walked to my front door as evening spread her grand indigo
gown across the town.
What is memory but a wind blowing through you?
Darkness or light, hope or despair, elegance or harshness, proper or racy, Blue Yodel explores the duality of experience in a way that draws the reader in and holds him or her in place with words that are inviting even if instincts say run. A very appropriate collection for my last book read in 2014 and my first review of 2015. An absolutely outstanding collection of poetry.