Monday, May 02, 2011

Review of “what looks like an elephant” by Edward Nudelman

Review of “what looks like an elephant” by Edward Nudelman, Lummox Press, PO Box 5301, San Pedro, CA 90733,, 113 pages, $15

Review by Barbara Bialick

A good poet tends to have a keen eye for observation, irony and detail, metaphysics and philosophy, so it should be no surprise when a scientist poet arrives on the small press scene with his first “full-length” book, “what looks like an elephant”. While the first thing I think of when a writer uses the symbol of an elephant, is the republican party, the book doesn’t go too heavily into politics. Rather, one gets intrigued by the lingo he uses for some of his images, that of a noted and scientifically published biologist living in the Boston area, a published poet, too.

For example, in “Linear Equations” he writes, “The volume of air in a cave is greater than all its parts,/Ask a spelunker to differentiate light’s vector./Follow that course. Graph the activity of a winter bird/as a function of ambient temperature/…You should be dead, but you aren’t. Graph that.”

Or examine a less dense, poem, “Arrival”: “Who can tell a gnat from a mosquito, unless/blood is spilled? Outside, a dog wants in./Inside, a soul wears slippers and sips iced tea./…Nobody here remembers the Vietnam war/but they will not easily forget this one.” But what war is that?

A poet is a poet, I believe, but how often do poets start out, “I was splicing a gene/when Thayer walked in…” He has all sorts of tools and numbers and colleagues ready to mine for poetry, yet he is not bound by them. “If the fear of God/is the beginning of wisdom,/ why am I so ignorant?” (“Notes from an Ill-kept Journal”)

Edward Nudelman’s first book of poetry, “Night Fires” was published in 2009 by OSU Press. Some of the journals he has published in include “The Atlanta Review”, “Chiron Review” the “Orange Room Review” and many others. He is a noted cancer research biologist with “over 60 published papers in top-tier journals.” He has also published two books on Jessie Willcox Smith, an American illustrator (Pelican Publishing, 1989, 1990). He is a native of Seattle who lives “just north of Boston with his wife, Susan, and their Golden Retriever, Sofie.”


  1. I've read Ed's book and was blown away by it. A page turner all the way. Not only is he a gifted poet, his poems are interesting, to put it as plainly as possible. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, poet or nonpoet.

  2. I agree with Pris in her choice of high praise: I, too, was "blown away by it." For me this means that I was also astonished by the vivid and precise imagery, the tension between subjective human doubt and so-called 'objective' scientific certainty, as well as the depth of memories of extended consciousness over a lifetime, in Ed Nudelman's first full-length book, WHAT LOOKS LIKE AN ELEPHANT, which is also his second published book of poems overall.

    If NIGHT FIRES was a classic first chapbook, the same can be said of this new major work, with over a hundred pages of poems: It is a classic, for its contents elicit visceral as well as cerebral frissons in the reader again and again in riveting 'true poems' such as "Linear Equations", "Father's Cobra", "The Corners Of Rooms", "One Way To Understand War, "Turtle Soup", "Feral Cats", or "Dark Glass", of a a perfect integration of form and feeling, what Harold Bloom in his essay The Art of Reading Poetry calls "inevitability....a crucial attribute of great poetry." I would recommend Nudelman's poems to all intelligent and sensitive readers of contemporary American poetry.

    And interestingly, as a side note to the skilled and mindful reviewer Doug Holder-- although I am a Democrat, have both personally met the founder of cognitive linguistics, George Lakoff, and read his politico-linguistic treatise DON'T THINK LIKE AN ELEPHANT, and am inured to imagery of the Demo donkey and the G.O.P. elephant that date back over a century and a half, it never once occurred to me to associate Ed's book's chief image with politial parties. Rather, I thought of William Butler Yeats' masterpiece poem, "The Circus Animals' Desertion," because Nudelman has truly plumbed the "rag and bone shop of the heart." Despite his brilliant panoply of scientific metaphors at both micro and macro scale, it turns out that the only real "elephant in the room" in this volume is the poet's heart, at once loving and despairing, assured and agonized, nervous and steely nerved, on full and glorious display.

  3. Thank you John Walter for this very interesting analysis of my book, and a mini-review in itself. I just wanted to say a few words about the title which was extracted from the poem, "Another List of Intangibles." In the poem, the speaker is frustrated by what he finds to be an inconsistency between what he knows to be true and what appears to be false, or at best, misleading. He bellyaches, "What looks like an elephant is a cloud on the updraft," and in that allusion of perception and apprehension, the poem, and perhaps the book turns.

  4. I have not read the book but I have read his poetry and it rocks!!! Pick up the book. xo

  5. I want to thank Doug & Barbara for this insightful review (a rarity it seems these days), and to Pris & John for their equally insightful comments! As a publisher of small press poetry, I am proud to be in the company of such able-minded people as you all: thinkers who can speak with compassion...a rarity in these times.

  6. Thanks so much Rd (publisher, Lummox Press)

  7. Lovely review and I really should look out for the book. I love the images Edward Nudelman makes in his poems.

  8. I always find a kindred spirit with the writings of Ed Nudelman. So when I looked at the title of his book, I got excited.

    What Looks Like An Elephant coaxed me from my secret hiding place, if you know what I mean.

    As I examined the work's pages, I asked myself two questions. Are we not talking here about the little constructs we have all made in our individual little worlds? Do we not speak here or all the little defense mechanisms we use to shield us from circumstances that edge us out of our overprotected comfort zones?
    In his signature treatment of life and its poetry, once again Ed Nudelman holds his readers captive from cover to cover. The writings, every single one of them, made me look around the room for someone to whom I could slap a high five, or to whom I might shout a heart-sourced Amen.

    Wonderful insights here, wonderful use of words and poetry--What Looks Like An Elephant--is just plain wonderful to read. Again and again...

  9. "Linear Equations" piques my interest. I look forward to reading it as well as the other poems once I receive the book.