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Review of milk tooth bane bone, poems by Daniela Elza

 

I have always responded to Daniela Elza’s poetry in a visceral and immediate way: she makes me want to sit down and write. She makes me look at the world differently. Which is to say, her words are a force of inspiration in my life.

 

The guiding image in this beautiful volume of poetry is the crow. Crows fly in and out of these poems and become interchangeable with words themselves, as well as with the process of creation. The book begins with an image of the poet dropping words the way a crow drops mussels – to see them crack.

 

Elza takes the reader through many winter landscapes where the crows create a stark contrast of black on white that is anything but clear-cut. These are the birds that know death but do nothing to prevent it. They are the ones that eat words in a book and then the words become crows, and the crows become ink, and the ink belongs to a beloved grandfather’s printing press.

 

Crows took the narrator’s first milk tooth in a bargain her six-year-old self did not understand. She threw it on the roof for them, chanting, here crow is my bone tooth!/ give me one as strong as iron! And the crows have pursued her ever since.

 

Elza explores the challenge of getting to the truth of things with words, getting to the essence of something as simple as rain, which the crows speak of effortlessly. She weaves personal history into her narrative, difficult stories that live inside all of us and which we tell over and over as if it will help them to make sense.

 

Why crows?

 

“I notice  crows –/ the pin-point of light/ in the eye/ that watches/ me/ watching.

 

Ultimately I think Elza’s answer involves the process of creation itself. The crows settle so easily on the trees, “…ink in white birches…” as the poet watches from her window, pen in hand. The crows are both words and the silence between words. The poet wants to know how close she can get to meaning before it startles and escapes her.

 

One of the things I love about the way Elza structures her poetry is her ample and intentional use of space. These poems have room to breathe. There is silence built around them that allows each word to resonate.

 

Whatever readers might think of the lowly crow, whether “…lofty messenger or noisy trash bird,” these birds live in the poems as little black mysteries we have not yet solved – like words themselves.

 

milk tooth bane bone is published by Leaf Press.

For more about Daniela, please visit her website, or go to my interview with her.