Ireland: Situations, 2000
If I were to use words that were cleansed of accumulated definition, I would call Joe Elliot a "formal lyricist" because he has such a primary engagement with both form and lyric. I don’t mean forms, (as in pantoum), but the form for which the poem asks. He is one of the most adept poets today in finding out what a particular poem needs to manifest itself best, whether it is publishing medium, typography, line length or word choice. He has an ability to divine the profound sense of words. I know this may sound a bit overblown (I don’t have Joe’s talent for reworking overblown phrases so they sound fresh and original), but wait until you see his latest publication, Fourteen Knots from Situations. Situations is Joe’s own press, which is perfectly suitable for Joe’s quest to liberate the sculpture from the marble, so to speak. Doing his own book allowed him to do something like type these fourteen lovely of poems on transparent onionskin paper, fold them over into a delicate lettersize chapbook, and insert them into striped airmail envelopes with Irish stamps. Fourteen Knots was written in Ireland, and the poems contain that Celtic conundrum, where the snake puts its own tail in its mouth. While these poems are not sonnets, they are sonnet-like in their symmetry. The last halves of the poems fold back to the first half, simultaneously complimenting and contradicting. They pivot backward to look at themselves. And look at us, and Joe too, to see who’s writing and reading them. Here’s one: "As he walks by/I look at//his T-shirt/and read it//and when he sees me/doing this//he glances down/and reads//his T-shirt/too". Here’s another one: "muddy Mayo/farm between//sudden steep/mountains//bleak green bleak/consonant//vowel/consonant//and inside my body/this icy//emptiness I get/to see//each time I let/go of it". When you pull the tail of one of these poems, they just unwind more pleasures of reading & thought.
-- Marcella Durand
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