Here are a few links to some recent reviews of my new book, "What Looks Like an Elephant," Lummox Press, 2011. I'm also reprinting the Pedestal Magazine review below. Please click on any of below:
Pedestal Magazine Review, August, 2011
Poets and Artists Review, July, 2011
Boston Area Small Press Review, May, 2011
Interview: Poetic Asides
From Lummox Press
From Barnes and Noble
From Small Press Distribution
WHAT LOOKS LIKE AN ELEPHANT
by Edward Nudelman
Review by Grady Harp in Poets and Artists:
Edward Nudelman is a poet of importance. It is likely that at some point in his career he will be at least short listed for Poet Laureate, so able is he to find those fragments of imagination, question, fear, doubt, and need for definition that poke temporary holes in our lives, leaving us with a choice of persistent uncertainty or a good guffaw as camouflage. Reading Nudelman’s succinct poems is not unlike studying cells through a microscope, something Nudelman likely has spent time doing in his day job of cancer research – watching what appear to be normal cells metamorphose into altered forms, becoming villains to life as our bodies know it. Perceptions and explanations, cognitive transient thoughts piqued by momentary changes, looking at the expected and finding paradoxes, and in the end putting all of these experiences in the finely carved frame of humor and the time erosion of memory – all of these aspects are in this collection of erudite yet warmly recognizable Gileads of poetry.
An aspect of Edward Nudelman’s poems that this reader finds particularly appealing is his ability to communicate a thought in a one page poem that minutes to hours to days later calls the reader back to re-think the message first accepted:
A flood light decants through a side window.
Who can tell a gnat from a mosquito, unless
blood is spilled? Outside, a dog wants in.
A bus pulls up to its last stop, a boy gets off.
It’s a long walk home; but he wants to walk.
Nobody here remembers the Vietnam war
but they will not easily forget this one.
An astronaut is returning from another planet.
It’s late, but everybody’s ears are piqued.
Everything’s looming, everything’s on hold,
including Wednesday evening’s bridge club.
Halfway through the night, a worried
mother finishes her second book in two nights.
The dog is allowed to come in and checked
for ticks. The stove is left on for heat.
Moods of such ignored magnitude find their way into most all of Nudelman’s poems – that and humor and other conundrums. In the very elegant NOCTURNAL we can excerpt a few lines (space here does not allow full recreation): ‘I’ve written a poem on the death of my father/ and another on the birth of my granddaughter./ Both poems contain the same words in different order./ And both possess the capacity to shock me.’……’Have you ever considered walking backwards to work?/ Watching your house grow smaller and smaller/ until finally you can’t remember the color of shutters./ Have you ever thought about remodeling your mind?’ And in the midst of humor and challenges to look twice at first perceptions he is also able to step back and write simply a pure poem:
A hawk’s view of a field in the last hour of light.
To understand limitless reach, a concept
withheld from those who are not birds.
To differentiate ocean from water, space
from enclosure, to stretch out over expanding
coldness and remain insulated, cradled.
To ride a tornado without feeling dizzy.
Slide down an elephant’s back.
Go to the dentist just for a thrill.
Disavow self-preservation and envy.
Denounce consumption, apathy, rancor.
To see both the end and the beginning
simultaneously, and embrace both.
To rest in hope, my own diminishing.
Edward Nudelman slyly takes a cupful of science and a dollop of humor and a soupçon of philosophy and stirs that and more into some of the finest poetry being written today. Science. Art. There really is no division.
Pedestal Review, August, 2011
The Pedestal Magazine > Current Issue > Reviews >Edward Nudelman's what looks like an elephant
what looks like an elephant
Reviewer: Bob Grumman
Poets, like painters, thus unskill'd to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover every part,
And hide with ornaments their want of Art.
True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd,
What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd;
Something whose truth convinced at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind.
So what if I'm the ten thousandth writer to quote the above passage from Pope's "An Essay on Criticism." So what if he, the epitome of a formal poet, would not seem, on the surface, to have much in common with Edward Nudelman, whose poems in what looks like an elephant don't even rhyme. I happen very much to admire the Pope passage. I also believe Nudelman has more in common with Pope than he doesn't, in spite of his not being the technician Pope (brilliantly) was.
Not that I'm saying Nudelman, or any other free-verse practitioner (as I occasionally am myself), just tosses words together. I love what he achieves with his conjs in the first stanza of his "Shape of Sorrow":
Conjunction of stars
conjured from far-flung
worlds of chance
And all those r-consonances, and the "ar"-rhymes, how the poem then integrates the sound of the s in "measured" and the c in "oceans”! While I feel that Pope always brings his poems' content up to the level of their technique, I feel that Nudelman, on the other hand, manages to elevate his technique to match his content.
I think what the two poets mainly have in common is a sharp, highly rational understanding of human beings as well as a precise ability to communicate that to their readers, with only the subtlest of ornamentation, albeit Pope is a lot less sympathetic to the people he depicts than is Nudelman. I can't think where, for example, Pope ever directly empathized with anyone as desolated by life as the subject in "Shape of Sorrow," who has:
the distance and found
oceans between you
You've argued away
all good in a last threshing
of meaning, settled
for a darker hope
and a deeper pit
and every reason
to crawl into.
Okay, maybe I've overdone the Pope/Nudelman comparison. Perhaps it's just the fact that the preceding poem, for example, seems to so exactly exemplify "What oft was…felt rather than thought, but ne'er so well express'd; Something whose truth convinced at sight we find, That gives us back the image of our mind" that I couldn’t resist mining the comparison. But Nudelman, like Pope, is uniquely able to milk commonplace subject matter, as when treating the domestic relationship in "Privileges," which begins, "She meant to tell me yesterday that I would be losing/ some privileges. I am not being told on the way out/ the door, so I can brood on the consequences as I walk…to my workplace."
Perhaps I’m stretching again: Pope turned the quotidian into something epic in The Rape of a Lock, if only comically; In “Privileges,” Nudelman practices a contemporary matter-of-factness. Pope's wit is at the expense of others, Nudelman's at his own. I like the Pope passage too much to drop my comparison completely. Plus: contrasts are as revealing as comparisons!
But I'm going to dismiss Pope now in order to focus entirely on Nudelman. It's no accident that the title of his collection concerns the elephant of the blind men unable to coherently make a whole of it, for a major theme of the collection is the difficulty—sometimes laughable, sometimes deplorable, but sometimes wonderful—of pinning down existence or consummately defining it. Nudelman's background as a biologist widely published in his field (cancer research) informs and strongly affects his poetry, distinguishing it from the work of most of his contemporaries. "Linear Equations,” his book's introductory piece, may be as good as any of his poems, universally integrating the notions of fusion and fission, as well as what might be called a certain Macbethianism:
Graph the sun's fall as a function of a gnat's perception
of time. Are there only a hundred suns in a gnat's life?
. . .
Graph all the molecules in the universe
as a function of size: its integral is somewhere between
one and infinity, but not the middle number.
And there's the final line: "You should be dead, but you aren't. Graph that." Variations on this outlook are present in several other poems, including the book's final piece, "Last Requests," which ends, "To rest in hope, my own diminishing” (i.e., the diminishing of both his hope and himself), and an earlier piece, "Turtle Soup," which concludes:
Sometimes at night I see shell-less turtles
massing on the edge of my bed;
shriveled heads and wrinkled bodies
reminding me of what's to come.
(Note: this sort of (highly effective) lunge into surrealism/dream-vividness is common in Nudelman's work.)
Nudelman can be happy, too, as in "Streaming," when he depicts himself splicing a gene: "…going on momentum/ and the lure of giddy surprise./ I'm in a biochemical sweep/ across an unchartered cosmos." And later in the same poem:
I'm air, water, fire and spirit.
I can't hear the pump whine.
I can't feel my tired feet.
I can't even imagine failure.
(Note: that's just how I felt at one point as a critic while writing this!)
Nudelman can lyrically transcend any laboratory, too, as is evidenced in "Gorilla Flower":
A breach reveals a purplish bud
as pristine as the snow surrounding it.
Maybe it landed in August, or fell off
an iris gliding across four backyards.
It might have dropped from a bird's
feather or it could have been there all
along, beating its pretty regal chest
in the vast white jungle, just as you do
when only the impossible matters
and only the impossible happens.
In his "Ephemeral," he probably reaches the peak of his lyrical concern with mortality and whatever it is for which we search in this life:
The garden's lamp-lit outline
beckons. Air chills as flowers
conspire against inevitability.
Is it June or winter beginning?
What is wind but a carrier?
Whether lavender or icy flecks,
ten years, twenty years, a hundred
life-times crammed onto a leaf's back.
Just as these roses brighten,
trillium bend over and drop off.
Aren't the bees after just one thing?
So too, we're here nosing
for something sweet, a heavy
remnant, a single drop of nectar
as volatile, as permanent.
I could easily quote ten or twenty more specimens of this poet's work, but I think I've quoted enough. For more of Nudelman, you'll have to buy his book. It won't disappoint you.