YOU CAN CALL IT BEAUTIFUL, Debra Elisa. MoonPath Press, PO Box 445, Tillamook, OR 97141, 2023, 107 pages, $17.99 paper, http://MoonPathPress.com.
I’m enthralled by this book of poems by Oregon poet Debra Elisa. My first impression was that her poems made a good contrast to mine, choreographed differently, her language distinct and pocked with color. But as I read more deeply, I began to see how our subjects and themes overlap: childhood songs, mothers and grandmothers, kitchens, birds, dogs, backyard gardens.
We also—if I can extend my interests beyond my new book—share a fascination with Emily Dickinson, as this cover blurb written by Allen Braden makes clear, calling Debra’s style “as idiosyncratic as Emily Dickinson’s with poems flaunting ‘breath and tiptoe glory and Clover.’”
And so much more, poems about social justice, poems about peace. Consider these lines:
You write often of Trees Dogs Birds
she says and I feel disappointed because I wish
her to tell me You challenge us to consider justice
and love in all sorts of ways.
In short, this is an eclectic, surprising collection of poems.
What makes You Can Call It Beautiful a coherent collection (too) is the way Debra weaves her themes throughout, and unites all of it with her gift for sound and color. In “On the Way to Khajuraho” we encounter “Saris of aubergine azure black ayayas,” ending with “Ginger and Sunrise // charging again / this peregrine Land.” Having traveled so little myself, I’m both in awe of Debra, and grateful for her generous, joyful evocations.
Ekphrastic poetry—poetry about art—is another thread. This poem, quoted in full, evokes the cover art. At the same time it demonstrates the motif of elegy that twines all the way through the book:
Boy on Bicycle
after Graciela Rodo Boulanger’s
Le vainqueur (The Winner), etching, 1968
on the living room wall
the boy pedals
grin and play
was gift to you
when I asked
for this delight to hang
in my own home.
and sketch a single brushstroke
acrylic eyes another crimson
beginnings and conversation
Your portrait—slight smile
glance to camera—
set on my desk
another on a kitchen shelf.
You left us early
and some stories
Debra’s book is available from MoonPath Press, from https://bookshop.org, and from your local independent bookseller. You can read another poem by Debra at MoonPath on her author page, and you can read her blog, here: https://www.l-i-t.org/author/debelisa/