Translations from the Flesh

by Elton Glaser,
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013,
$15.95, 85 pages, paper,
ISBN: 978-0-8229-6234-2.
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The first time I stumbled across Elton Glaser was in the Fall 2011 edition of the New Ohio Review.  I was hooked immediately by the fervent and didactic tone of “Solo in the Skeleton Key,” a voice that spoke with seemingly ageless experience and authority on the subject of love.  “Translations from the Flesh” is Glaser’s seventh full-length book of poetry, and in it I found a poet completing his mastery of wit and seduction.  Glaser speaks with a voice that is both pondering and affirmed by its purpose, alternately resigned and vigorous.  Surprising and intricately paradoxical, his poems express vivid and ecstatic prophecies and musings that develop the concepts of love and transcendence.
A longing for both metaphysical fulfillment and erotic satisfaction pervades many poems, and none can summarize it better than a passage from “Unrequited Dialogue by Moonlight”:

I’d like a few answers that would
Make the missionaries trade their Bibles
For a jukebox and a sharkskin suit; that would
Convince me to walk this earth
In the only serious position, on all fours,
Like a hound sniffing out the backside of paradise.

Glaser crawls through the dirt on all fours in search of these answers, proselytizing as he goes.  The voices of his poems roam through risqué subjects with cheeky expressions and illustrative analogies.  Glaser speaks in a contemporary voice that uses luscious language without becoming verbose: each poem is filled with hooks that will catch in the mind.  “A Contrecoeur” is a keen example of the natural and colloquial prose that makes this collection so memorable:

Sometimes I feel afraid for it, my heart
like a mouse in a windmill,
in an avalanche of grain.

While many of Glaser’s inconspicuous metaphors and analogies are playful, they often belie the yearning and urgency that constitutes much of this collection.  The sultry “95% of Love is Half of What You Want” spins the reader onto the dance floor with sexual kinesis, and “Pitching Woo” speaks with confident assertions but the nagging precognition of loss.  As I delved deeper, I found myself wondering what else could inspire these stormy lines other than a private life filled with disaster, and additionally, what else could be more provocative and engaging?

The title of the book serves aptly to introduce the recurrent association of the intellectual and the physical spheres.  No poem more aptly epitomizes the title as well as “Solo in the Skeleton Key,” a raw and evocative ode to passion and the damage of time:

Love’s no trick of ecstasy, no lightening strike in the mind.

Each new child
Struggles out, bloody and stunned, one more last chance to

get it right.

For the reader seeking ideas of universal order in poetry, the gravity of this stanza is especially poignant.  Glaser’s thesis on the human condition is a tribute to the labors of his lines; throughout the book, he translates from “this stony ground” a host of reflections that relate the struggle of the heart as “winter withers the stalks” of youthful deviance, ardor, and enthusiasm.  I found great beauty in his tenacity in the face of the inevitable.

Eventually, Glaser’s roaming quest leads him into dark places. Underneath the masking stoicism of “Downloading the Meltdown” and “Not Dead but Deading,” which asserts, “There’s no unified theory of the heart, only fiction and flesh,” there lies a plaintive soul at odds with reality, resurfacing again in “Coupling on the Edge of Entropy” where the speaker exclaims, “What’s one man against the laws of a raucous universe?”  In a book full of intrigue, Glaser eloquently frames the questions that haunt the pensive mind so that the answers are unnecessary: pondering the questions is itself enough.

Andre Demers