Praise for The Skin of the River (Aldrich Press, 2014)
You have to love a poet who pens lines like ‘Andy smuggles spank mags / … I hold the wine I swiped / off Harmon’s stoop,’ and ‘frogs … / clopped down the turnpike,’ vividly capturing the sounds and pulsing rhythms of his rural Missouri boyhood. The transporting poems in The Skin of the River contain a world, and whisk us into its midst: alfalfa and peanut fields, cockfights, ‘the alchemy of river water and Cokes,’ ‘odorous loam,’ and bits of perfectly rendered dialogue. Elijah Burrell gives us the grit and spark, the immediacy, the beating heart of a place and its people, with all their magic, guts, grimness, and gusto.
The characters who populate the stark world of this book could do with a little redemption—they’re reckless and careless, yet prodigals who haven’t wandered far from home. They are fallen and either don’t notice or don’t give a damn. In these poems we have a map to indicate a cultural fallout evident in many American communities over the last thirty-five years or so. It’s been quite a blur, and the strangeness we seek from poetry provides one of the few meaningful responses. I am happy to have this book and the heart behind these poems.
The Skin of the River is a Southern, Biblical phantasmagoria, both funny and horrifying, touched and touching. Elijah Burrell’s terrific first book possesses a rich knowledge of poverty and an even richer understanding of the world both rich and poor. See if you can forget, for instance, ‘Stifling Pot, 1963,’ in which a man goes to the Saturday cockfights to beg for the dead roosters so he can feed his family Sunday dinner. I can’t, and I don’t want to.