Book review: Tyringham poet tackles issues of climate change

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Whenever Tyringham poet and author Elizabeth Elliott appears at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar, there is a buzz of excitement. With her sixth book of poems, "Climate Change and Nature — While Choice Is Ours," Elliott did just that for a sizable crowd of admirers last fall.

This volume takes on the issues of climate change head-on and without prevarication. In the first poem of the book, "Danger Sensed," Elliott sets the tone for how in tune and sympathetic she is for the elements of nature in transition, in the opening line, "Strange wood, / there is craving in the way it burns; / the tempo of the flame is much too high, / the watcher has no peace." This line captivates the metaphor that threads through all of the poems, which chronicle the alarming changes in forests and atmosphere and oceans. She embraces the enigma and bewilderment inherent in the climate catastrophe we have inherited in poems like, "All We Did And Now Is Done," with the opening line, "Strange to find/we've walked as though we're actually blind, / into a mess that only we could make ..."

Elliott's poems read like songs, that sung in accompaniment with any instrument in the orchestra, elevate the words with melody to approach the many chambers of the human heart, and in this case, the chambers of the earth in its myriad forms. Graceful braids of words come together in lines and stanzas, evoking the place we are meant to be in a mood, an emotion and a state of mind with regard to the environment. As poet David Budbill wrote, "Whether talking about love, sex, growing old, family, nature, or obliquely about current politics, Elizabeth Elliott's elevated, almost archaic language, her elegiac tone and her piercing, relentless eye bring into stark relief the angst and quandaries of the post-modern age. She is always in control of cadence and syntax. Her love of sound, as well as sense, sings through the urgency of these poems."

These new poems evoke all the vistas of the world to deport us even further beyond the mortal life we think we know. They are crafted with control and as the late John Ashbery said, "The Precisions of Dickinson and Moore, their somewhat tactful measuring of the sublime ..."

These poems tell the undiluted truth in a most satisfying and rewarding way. Elliott's previous five books are, "Poems," "Placate The Jaws," "Winter Ferry," "Burn All Night" and "Love and Its Interruptions." Now she takes on climate change: the extreme weather, violent storms, heat and drought, and with them all, the various responses of denial and rage we have all experienced. For all that, and through all that, again, as Ashbery once wrote about her work: "Hers is a strong and original voice that speaks from the center of the English poetic tradition."

The book has a bonus of four photos of sculptor Angelica Braestrup's work by Jay York. The cover art is one of these sculptures, "The Fatted Calf," where two figures lead a calf over a hill and Elliott makes a comparison to climate change deniers. She also states that the sculptures, like the poems, are the "color of rock-bottom," where the climate work must begin.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com.


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