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3 poems by Elsbeth Pancrazi

1 essay by Anthony Madrid,
on the poems of Elsbeth Pancrazi

Five-Paragraph Essay for Public School Poetry ::
Sunday 18 February 2024 :: 715 words


              Sarah... Anna... Bill... Jason... M—... Emma... Colin... Sam... Roberta...

              Bruce...  Natalie... Cole...

These are the people mentioned by the poet during the course of three poems:
“The Abyss,” “Vocations,” and “The Doctors.” The surnames are not given. The
impression is that these are the poet’s good friends. They are not described; they
say things. You get the idea the poet does not rank her own voice above the voice
of any of these others. Everyone has something to say; they all sound different;
everyone is intelligent. If the things they said sounded made up, it would be bad,
but because it all sounds like real talk, the effect is pleasing. Basically: profoundly
un-egotistical poetry. Which is rare, and pretty much has always been ra
re. See


            I never learned to think in writing
              like Colin thinks in pa
              I only know how to write in conversation

This is a crucial moment in this packet of poems. She’s not rejecting “thinking in
writing.” She just says she never learned how to do it. Yet, the line “I only know
how to write in conversation” has a ring to it. If you, as a reader, suspect that {to
think in writing
} is not as good as {writing in conversation}, you will irresistibly
sense the poet is hinting agreement with that. But what really is the difference
between those two polarities—? Basically this. In conversation, we venture the
things we’ve already thought, and we expect resistance—and sometimes to benefit
from this resistance. Whereas, “to think in writing” means the poet has to do all the
resisting herself. The benefit does not come from without. See above.


              This is what’s happening right now
              I am advised
              to tell myself and notice
              the tingle in my hands
               “—and it’s acceptable.”

This is one of the moments where the presence of the therapist is evoked. Such
passages are exciting for anyone reading these poems with an eye on the ideal of
“writing in conversation.” Will the therapist be allowed citizenship rights? or will the
poet fall in line with the tradition (big since the 1950s) of showing the therapist to
be “Herr Doktor,” either indifferent or sphinx-like. The above lines could be the
counsel of a sphinx, but elsewhere the therapist is clearly a member of the

               The therapist said
               you have proven
               you have the skills
               to put aside

               your own pleasure
               Now let’s see
               if you can learn
 to tend to it


             “The abyss that poets are called to attend to”
d the Red Hook winter night—they’re the same abyss.

Red Hook, for anyone who hasn’t lived in New York, is a neighborhood in Brooklyn.
It’s out there by Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. It’s on the water. I’m going by
memory here. I don’t know what it’s famous for now; it used to be an industrial
wasteland zone. You ever seen the movie O
n the Waterfront—? That’s Red Hook.
Park Slope and Carroll Gardens are the opposite: there, it’s all high-tech baby
carriages as far as the eye can see. Anyhow, you need to know all this to appreciate
the lines properly. The poet is saying: If you want to get a load of the classic
existential despair blob—the neutron star of loneliness and emptiness—take
the F or the G, and get off at Carroll Gardens and start walking west. You’ll wade
through money for about a half hour, and then that’ll dry up, and by the time you
get to the Bay, and are looking at the Statue of the Liberty from the only place in
New York where you can see it head on, you’ll be standing in four inches of black,
crusty snow, and your sense that anything could possibly help you or anyone else
will have utterly dissolved. All you’
ll be able to do is whisper: No.


               Ask yourself
               how many do-overs
               do I get?
               The answer cannot be zero

This means: Don’t just stand there, whispering no. You have to attend to the abyss,
fine. But tend to pleasure as well. Zero is against the rules; zero is out of bounds.
Zero is only if you try to go it alone.


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