Colleen J. McElroy (1935-2023)

WHAT MADNESS BROUGHT ME HERE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, 1968-1988Colleen J. McElroy. Wesleyan University Press, Hanover and London, 1990, 107 pages. Out of Print.

I had this mad idea that I would—instead of doing my usual blogfest of poetry book reviews in April (National Poetry Month)—review a book each week this year.

The problem being that there is no time this week to sit quietly reading a book of poems, save my own. (In-person launch Thursday, 4 January, Edmonds Bookshop, 6 p.m. For a review of my book, visit Debra Elisa’s blog:

Then it occurred to me that there is no better time to share a poem from my MFA advisor and mentor, Colleen J. McElroy, who died in December. I have almost all 16 of her books, most of them signed by her. I considered her a friend, as well, and am ashamed that I hadn’t seen her since before 2020.

A great soul with a voracious appetite for travel, music, and language, she touched innumerable lives, and I am lucky to count myself among them.

I won’t pretend this is a review, just an appreciation.

Looking into the Eyes

finally is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s feet
this falling in love with book jacked photos
how writers hide everything
in metaphors of frowns as if contemplating
the separation of sky and ground
details that go unnoticed on crowded streets
are embellished by profiles etched
in the ebony and ivory
of chiaroscuro mystery
the way the head tilts determines
whether you will buy the book

you check poems against the slant
of nose and curl of lip as if
symbols unravel there hollowed
in the corner of the left eye as if
the chapter will somehow gain meaning
once that small scar beside the right
ear is properly highlighted and put
into proper perspective

backgrounds are filled with allusions
like images drawn from a sixteen-year-
old’s dreams of how poets dream
look into the eyes
home is always some lonely country
or some lover’s promise to return soon
features converge into anthologies
of lines until finally it is no longer
the face but the luscious curve of ankle
the arched toe the little one turned
inward coyly hiding some sweet secret

—Colleen J. McElroy (this poem originally published in Lie and Say You Love Me, Circinatum Press, 1981)

To see more poems, visit Poetry Foundation. You can learn more about Professor McElroy at this article in The Seattle Times, or visit, Washington State’s on-line encyclopedia, to read my 2012 biography of her (now updated). 


The Unsinkable Priscilla Long

If you have been my student or talked about writing with me, then you probably already know that Priscilla Long, author of The Writer’s Portable Mentor and other books, has been my friend for 30 years.

We met while I was studying for my MFA in poetry at the University of Washington and Priscilla, for her fiction MFA. Or, she was supposed to be studying fiction. After taking a workshop with Colleen McElroy, we decided to exchange poetry manuscripts, and we began meeting for dinner almost every week to rework and deepen our poems.

At our table at the old College Inn in the university district, I confessed to Priscilla my very un-feminist craving for a baby and she told me, “For heaven’s sake! If you want a baby, have a baby! Don’t blame feminism!”

When my twins were a year old and I stalled on my Ph.D. dissertation, Priscilla saved me. “Send me seven pages! They can be terrible! Even with two babies you can write seven terrible pages!” She coaxed that dissertation out of me, never rewriting a single sentence, always telling me, “Of course you can do it!”

So, for those reasons and many others, I am very pleased to direct you to this bio, newly posted at History Link, the free on-line encyclopedia of Washington state history.