cover image Serenade


Brooke Ellsworth. Octopus, $14.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-9861811-6-0

“My thing is that I’m like unreasonable,” announces Ellsworth in a crafty, cagey debut collection that manifests as a “darkening house of low-tide astonishment.” Here, readers encounter “Language as a puce/ gas we are born in and out of in rapid/ oscillation.” It’s an apt description of how Ellsworth’s language operates. While not explicitly fragmentary, the text features myriad brief, even curt, declarations or observations. Ellsworth’s irregular forms and conversational vernacular dance around the subject matter. Despite her tendency to avoid straightforward sense-making, the work remains affecting: “Spent days staring at nothing so my language describes nothing or my language constructs nothing instead of the// glittering/ blue/ weekends.” That blue recurs throughout, marking out the alienation during a “slip/ into/ the/ poem/ that is/ the/ crowd.” Some poems, particularly in section two, can feel distant or resistant, a purposeful act as “Part of the piling up of bewilderment I guess I feel.” The final section contains a dreamy, early-21st-century restaging of the Echo and Narcissus myth, with references to social media, ecological anxiety, and more. “I’m a liar// I tell you I am// so mindless// with art,” Ellsworth’s speaker proclaims, but this discerning work reveals the poet as quite perceptive and insightful: “I know how to live in this universe// I know when to cover my hair/ in sand.” (Dec.)