As measured and rapturous as any work of art that expresses profound awe and gratitude, Elijah Burrell’s Troubler opens out into the most luminous spaces of understanding as both a kind of reckoning and resurrection. I turn to intimate poetry of this kind—speech-laden, vivid, and expansive—to remind me of the ordinary pleasures of memory and song.
—Major Jackson, author of Roll Deep and poetry editor at Harvard Review
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.
—Andrew Hudgins, Pulitzer Prize Finalist and author of Saints and Strangers.
Praise for TROUBLER (Aldrich Press, 2018)
In Elijah Burrell’s second collection of poems, the past and present echo off each other in visions occasioned by the visitations of the shape-shifting form of the titular Troubler. As Troubler ‘gives notice,’ the poems themselves provide the reader with a different kind of noticing—attention to the specificities of both image and vernacular, sustained looking and satisfying turns of phrase. Infused with music and memory, Troubler complicates our assumptions about coming of age, rendering it a process that reverberates in us long into the life, love, and loss of adulthood.
—Dora Malech, author of Say So and Shore Ordered Ocean
As inventive in its form as Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and as trenchant in its emotion as the poems of Donald Hall and Robert Hass, Elijah Burrell’s Troubler leaves its lucky reader in hushed, grateful awe. The poems engage their subjects—faith and suffering, love and loss, youth and mortality—with clear-eyed empathy and gorgeous language. Each one is an invitation—to think, to feel, to remember that you’re alive.
—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This and director of The Michener Center for Writers
Elijah Burrell’s second collection is a tour de force in both its overarching conception and its granular detail. One minute, as the book “musters me skyward,” I’m mulling its big spiritual questions or its apt organizational trope of the double LP. Next minute, I’m back down in the roadside mallow, delighting in phrases, anecdotes, unforgettable characters. One such character is the collection’s namesake, Troubler. An irresistible mystagogue, he moseys in and out of these poems like a lost angel from Flannery O’Connor’s heaven. Troubler augurs the loss of the protagonist’s mother, and the book’s closing movements reckon with her illness and eventual death. Later on, from “the far darkness,” she returns in everyday sights and sounds. The mother now lives in the son’s imagination. Thanks to the power of this poetry, she lives in the reader’s too.
—Greg Brownderville, author of A Horse with Holes in It
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.
—Amy Gerstler, winner of the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry for Bitter Angel.
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.
—Maurice Manning, recipient of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, Pulitzer Prize Nominee (2010), and author of The Gone and the Going Away.