Elements | Deborah Poe

Deborah Poe’s Elements lyrically enacts structures and histories of 39 elements. Poe’s experimental tactics bring “Phosphorus (P)” and “Calcium (C)” alive with the rigor of a scholar and the precision of a musician. Her visual play is as captivating as the politics of extraction she examines. We meet newborns, labor leaders, lovers and scientists. Poe satisfies our need for story, for discovery, for protest. We also encounter linguistic spaces which thwart narrative expectations: information is presented fragmentarily, out of order or elided completely. Through poems such as “Potassium (K),” “Titanium (Ti),” and “Ununtrium (Uut),” the language of science collides with the language of art, and we watch a literary “between space” emerge: earthquake syntax of / language and the mind” merge in “thought-flock constellations.” We experience hypnosis in the nerve net // hybridization / a closer experience / with the geological body. A continual catalyst between worlds, Poe’s poems push beyond the materials and materiality that initiate them.

Praise for Elements

Deborah Poe’s brilliant poems, grounded in 39 of our elements, catch us off balance in ways that create new balance. Her voices are humorous, prophetic, weird, and familiar: “4 empty green chairs by the ungoing hair fire heave, / wear her fire fire burning bright the half poison night.” Elements is a huge, strange, necessary book that takes us sometimes where we would not go. I think she’s a terrific poet.

Jean Valentine, author of Little Boat and Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems 1965-2003


In Deborah Poe’s Elements we find the rare combination of rigorous intelligence and deep passion. The title Elements conjures Euclid and perhaps also Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table this is a book that aims to get to the bottom of things, to the essentials of our lives. And it does. These poems shift in form and language as the content shifts, and they’re willing to take responsibility for the full range of human experience. This book is full of knowledge and wisdom, reason and pleasure. Open it, enjoy, and learn.

Ed Smallfield, author of The Pleasures of C and coeditor of Apogee Press


Poe helps us celebrate the joyous tragedy of living in a physical world, a physico-chemical world in which our deepest feelings can turn on the flip of a molecule. Her verbal web is shot through with glimpses of narrative, learned etymologies, fanciful analyses of the demotic sex-charged entitlements of the body right now. How we are made. All through these smart poems, a persistent lyricism holds all things together?where together is a kind of woven thing, things held at their proper distances from one another?some near, some far, all arresting. A shockingly lovely book.

Robert Kelly, author of Fire Exit and The Logic of the World



Deborah Poe’s Elements (Stockport Flats, 2010) is all over the place in a good way. The lines in the poems are short, long, jagged, breath driven, faded, bolded, italicized, rectangular, and once are even laid out so you have to turn the book ninety degrees clockwise to read the poem. Yes, Elements is all over tha place just like the elements that make up the universe – and hooray for both, for the natural elements give us life and the book Elements explores that life….

“Phosphorous (P)” is a good example of this, except the stanzas move the way I hope a line will move. The poem’s movement is quite similar to a haiku’s movement if you think of each section as a line in a haiku. There’s an image in the first section, the leap to another image is in the second section, and then the haiku leap jumping with sensation into the third section. The third section, like the third line in a haiku, immediately makes connections that seem foreign yet sensical. Also, the syntax, if that is the correct word, changes. The first section works with the actions of “minerals” with “give,” “flashes,” and “stroked.” The section also has an action as ”the glow of the ocean” “catches fire” – the action being catches fire. The action, the something doing, is the parallel that holds those two sections together during the leap. (The leap from line 1 to line 2 in a haiku still has a connecting element in the lines, and in this poem, the connecting element for sections 1 and 2 is that there is an action, not to mention the long Os.)
But the third section is a statement, a definition. It’s also a big leap. The poem moves like image math – (image 1) + (image 2) = (image 3); however, image 3 is unexpected and larger than the sum of the images…..

Another example of a poem connecting to something human occurs in “Copper (Cu),” which is the poem that you have to turn the book ninety degrees clockwise to read. In this poem, copper is used as symbol of the labor movement. In this case, a parallel is drawn with the IWW member Frank Little, who was lynched for defending the rights of the copper mine workers in Butte, Montana, in 1917, and whose lynch mob pinned a sign to him that read, “Others take notice. First and last warning. 3-7-77. L. D. C. S. S. W. T.” (He’s also the same Frank Little who was once arrested for reading The Declaration of Independence on a street corner.) This poem also sings with the voices of Allen Ginsberg and Ed Sanders – a chant moving down the page like a labor movement in a march for its rights.