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TRAVELLING MUSIC by Colleen J. McElroy


by Colleen J. McElroy

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-885266-65-0

Widely published in a number of genres, this Univ. of Washington English Professor last recorded her travels in the memoir A Long Way from St. Louie (1997), which prefigured the many poems about travel here: longish narratives that follow the poet through the Balkans, which she seems to loathe, Japan, which inspires some hermetic lines, and Paris, where the writer mistakes an Arab pickpocket for a flirt. Ischia reminds her of her father’s wartime service in Northern Africa, and the beach at Split bears history’s scars as well. She mocks the friendly Slavs for seeking approval for their jazz and exults in R&B on the radio in Madagascar. McElroy’s strongest poems are her portraits in black—the fascinating rhythms that underpin deft homages to Josephine Baker (spying in wartime Tangiers), Florence Mills and her legendary shimmy shake, Bill Robinson’s legacy to tap, and a superb sonnet to Dorothy Dandridge, spoiled only by its dubious last line. McElroy empathizes with nature’s outcasts: a dog trotting aimlessly on a deadly road; winter flies banging at the window; monkeys abandoned in Florida by Tarzan movie crews; and crows, which carry a strange cultural heritage of their own. An admitted —old protest poet,— McElroy indulges in some lame agitprop: a mild poem lamenting the defunding of the arts, and much more incendiary verse about the L.A. riots, which she commemorates with sociological clichÇ, sentiments that also find expression elsewhere (—Heavy in the S Curves—): —we have all learned to be victims.— A disagreeable traveler, McElroy only swings when she’s ’styling with flash,— not filigree.