Review of Breaking Away by Scott Elder

breaking[1]Review of ‘Breaking Away’ by Scott Elder.

Poetry Salzburg Pamphlet Series. ISBN 978-3-901993-52-7

 The qualities that most appeal to me in these poems by Scott Elder are their elusiveness and ambiguity, a mood of absence, an impression that what is not said is as important as the actual. ‘Her only presence is     a painful absence’ describes the woman on a train waving goodbye to her lover but distanced in her imagination so that she is ‘A ghost of herself’, a reflection in the window, her gaze ‘drifting through glass/through the man on the platform’. (Absence). In Esquisse the narrator feels him/herself carried by the spirits of ‘Blackbird, Elk, Wolf, and Swan’ while he measures ‘your absence in dust fall./Every mote on my lid tells its story,/and we listen to each till the heartbeat/ends.’

The title of the collection (and the title poem itself) enhances this impression of intangibility. ‘Wind hissing through a dozen halyards/confirms that somebody’s gone’ says the narrator as ‘A gull floats off in the broken half-light./Then another, and still another.’ (Breaking Away). In another poem we have a man ‘who might be an angel./He seems to be looking this way… I can’t quite piece him together. His look is familiar as scent remembered,/yet something keeps falling away.’ (The Man by the Roadside).

The poems in this pamphlet are lyrical and mysterious. ‘Listen to yourself listening’ says the poet. (Drowning at Sunset).The world depicted is ‘a freeze and a cringe, a fox/in full leap, suspended in time.’ There are images of seagulls, sparrows, feathers, breath and the wind, all dancing, flying, falling – a ‘Winged Stillness’, a finger-tip touch. (Gift of an Artist’).

Elusive, fleeting images – yet there is brutality too in Scott Elder’s poetic world. ‘The kick and bite of a .350 Magnum’ makes ‘a brutal entrance’ (Witness) as it does in the words of Penelope who says ‘When you came into Ithaca/I loaded my gun.’ (Penelope). Throughout, there are references to myths, folk songs, fairy tales, a wealth of symbolism and intriguing surreal touches as in Before the Fall where Dumpty sits for hours listening ‘to the whispers of swallows in a dingle dangle dusk.’

Scott Elder’s publication from Poetry Salzburg is rich in subtle, evocative poems. It is the forerunner, I am sure, of a great deal more.

Mandy Pannett