cover image Blue Yodel

Blue Yodel

Ansel Elkins. Yale Univ, $18 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-300-21002-6

Elkins’s debut, winner of the prestigious 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, opens in a town where permanent night has fallen, her speaker observing the confusion and privation of the people: “I watched as the people of my town tore down a man with their bare hands. They say he stole the light with his curse,/ But I only thought he was talking to himself.” This establishing shot sets the tone for the book, introducing a signature cinematic mode where mythology and place intersect. At times this mode does little more than recast familiar archetypes, albeit in an unassailably assured and resonant voice, but at its best it reveals character with stark and haunting power. In a vivid, lyrical rewinding of a lynching, the commands to “Return the tree, the moon, the naked man/ Hanging from the indifferent branch/ Return the blood to his brain, breath to his heart,” bring an irrevocable act into ever-sharper focus as the crime is recounted. And the subjects of her portraits share unsettling, violent hungers: “Every line out of my mouth is a lie/ except the one that begins with I want.” Even where Elkins is less direct, the intensities of image, music, and rhetoric, serve to unmask desire at its most elemental. [em](Apr.) [/em]