Sunday Poem – Andrew Elliott

This week poet Andrew McMillan tweeted “If people couldn’t TELL other people they were a poet but could only sit and write poetry, would they still want to be a poet?” This first of all made me laugh, but I think it touches on important things.  And then I read a wonderful post today from Helena Nelson about being a publisher, but more than that, about what it means to be a poet.  You can find the blog post here, and it really is worth reading
Helena Nelson is currently deep in the submissions window for Happenstance, which closes on Tuesday.  The blog above is Number 4 on this subject and you should read them all and preferably, I guess start with Number 1, but Number 4 made my heart soar today – in a strange way.

These two things – Andrew’s tweet and Helena’s blog are connected in my mind – although I haven’t quite worked out how yet.  Regular readers (or my friends) will know I put no thought really into these blog posts – I think as I write, in a similar way to when I write poems actually.

This means my thought process isn’t always particularly well thought out – but the poet I’ve chosen to feature for this Sunday fits nicely between this tweet and Helena’s blog, both of which, I think are trying to pin down what writing poetry is, or should be about.

Andrew Elliott is an elusive poet – I couldn’t track him down online to ask him directly whether I could use one of his poems for my Sunday Poem, so I got in touch with his publisher Charles Boyle of CB Editions, who incidentally, also keeps a very interesting blog at

Charles very graciously said I could use Andrew’s poem from his book ‘Mortality Rate’.  I ordered this book because I have developed a bit of a crush on CB Edition poetry books.  I have bought four this year – Dan O’Brien’s ‘War Reporter’ and two by Dennis Nurske – ‘Voices Over Water’ and ‘A Night in Brooklyn’ and of course this one by Andrew Elliott – which came to my attention because it was part of the Inpress Christmas Sale.  So at the minute I have a 100% hit rate with really enjoying this publishers’ books – CB Editions has a brilliant hit rate of winning the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize as well by the way…

It turns out Andrew Elliott doesn’t really engage with social media or the internet – there are not even any pictures of him, which explains why I couldn’t track him down.  It’s a good way not to get poetry stalkers I suppose.  Not that I am one of course.

But I respect him for this privacy – although I couldn’t do it – I enjoy being around poets too much – I like going to readings – I like talking about poetry – I even like Facebook and Twitter most of the time apart from when people moan about stuff that actually has nothing to do with the act of writing – or when people over share not fond of that – but I’m going off the point – I respect Charles Boyle even more – for publishing a poet whose work he loved, probably knowing that it would be difficult to sell copies because he wasn’t active on social media.  Then again – I still managed to buy the book!  So the moral of this tale is to go to CB Editions website – don’t bother with Amazon.  Order any of their poetry books – or even their fiction actually (although I haven’t tried any of those)

But first of all you need to read this poem by Andrew Elliott – which I think is representative of the rest of the book – the poems are full of these long twisting sentences which turn back on themselves.  I would finish reading each poem and then give myself a shake and have to go back again to the beginning – which is a good sign isn’t it?

I love the long lines of this poem – and the mystery of it – when the man exclaims that the holes in the poem ‘inexplicably move’ him – I feel the same way about this poem – except it is not inexplicable – it is that last verse that touches me.  It also reminds me of the Elizabeth Bishop poem ‘Monument’ which you can find here

Not in the syntax of course, or the rhythm, but in that close and unflinching attention to detail – the same kind of poetic gaze that cannot be distracted – and they both have those exclamations in them which are like little bursts of emotion…and the lightbulb ‘like the soul of a man so twisted’ – isn’t that great?  I do like poems that have the word soul in generally – especially as it is one of those ‘taboo’ words that you get told not to use – not quite in the same league as ‘shard’ but coming close – this makes me want to use it more though –

If you would like to read the rest of ‘Mortality Rate’ by Andrew Elliott pop over to CB Editions and make an independent publisher very happy for the new year!

Ps – I haven’t said anything about Christmas because I can’t be bothered.  It happened.  It was windy.  There you go!  Have a great New Year’s Eve if I’m not back before then!

Installation – Andrew Elliott

In a plywood partition that stops six inches short of the ceiling
a number of holes have been bored as if in preparation for plumbing.
Each two inches in diameter, they appear to be awaiting delivery
of a consignment of urinals from China, stainless steel ones no doubt.

Let’s count how many there are…There are nine, if I’m not mistaken,
and in almost every case such pride has been taken in the work –
perhaps the bit was tungsten-tipped? – that it’s only the hole in the middle
where – due to excessive vibration? – the cheap plywood has ragged

and left a fringe of splinters which should be easy enough to make good with the help of a Stanley knife and some sandpaper, were the fitter
to feel the need though that is to make the assumption that the urinals
will arrive when they’re supposed to, the job not abandoned,

the fitter not to be told and so turn up with all his gear to find exactly
as we’ve done a plywood partition down the middle of a room
whose walls are tiled white to the top and which, having had no windows
to begin with, is supplied with light by a long-life bulb which hangs

from the ceiling on our side like the soul of a man so twisted
that he might have had something to do with the holes, been either
the man who had bored them or the man who had had them bored for him –
though when I say our I mean only the side that we’re on; we could as easily

be standing on the dark side and, standing there, find it more interesting,
the effect of the light being let in through the holes, the sense of
encroachment on the ceiling where the partition stops short, as I’ve said…
But then again partition? It tolls a bell to which another bell answers.

The holes! They inexplicably move me. I feel a great need to worship them.
I want to get down on my hands and knees.  I want to crawl towards them.
I want to put my mouth to each one of them, in particular that horribly
ragged one.  I want to whisper such things as I’ve never told anyone.

3 comments on “Sunday Poem – Andrew Elliott

  1. Yep! I loved this book and reviewed it for Poetry London, but not nearly enough space to really go into it. It’s just so intensely clever and interesting. But I will say that if you like Elliott, you should definitely read Michael Hofmann if you haven’t (& there’s a great little book of essays and so on about Hofmann that CB Editions publishes!).

  2. how could I resist a poem that has , at its core an apparently out-of-kilter, spinning-out-of-control, sentence that is, in fact, totally ordered and coherent. It grabs me in the way of an obsessive on a late-night bus, and won’t let loose its grip? For me, the real shock comes in the last stanza, with its staccato short sentences. I like the way the syntax of the poem dramatizes a sort of breakdown, and in the madness of the confessional appears, paradoxically, more ordered and rational.
    Of course, it may not be serious at all. But I think it is.

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