What Looks Like an Elephant was the runner up in the 2011 Indie Lit Awards Poetry category and well deserving of that honor. I must admit that a blurb on the back cover about the use of math and science language and metaphors intimidated me a bit, but there was no need to fear. Edward Nudelman’s interest in math and science comes as no surprise, given he is a cancer research biologist, and his occupation clearly contributes to his desire and ability to observe the world around him and better enables him to transform these observations and insights into poetry.
In many ways, his keen observations about life reminded me of Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows. Nudelman’s narrative poems come to life, like in “Father’s Cobra,” which shows the curiosity of children in a scary sort of way.
Holding a heavy firearm evoked no feelings
of danger, just a twinge of guilt
and a heady sense of relief.
I looked straight into the barrel,
my hand nowhere near the trigger. (page 27)
There are poems about animals, like “Molly,” about putting a beloved, once energetic dog to sleep; relationships, like “Privileges,” a humorous poem about a wife’s gripes and a husband’s unwillingness to change; and youth and old age. I grew nostalgic when reading “On the T, Near Park Street,” remembering my days in Boston, my favorite city.
One of my favorite poems in the collection is “One Way to Understand War.” In my mind, the flock of geese symbolized the beauty and romance of war in their ordered flight formations.
Admire their long graceful necks
twisting and bouncing off the ground.
Follow the geese with your eyes.
Watch them look back one last time,
re-form, and race out of view. (page 41)
Admittedly, there were poems that went right over my head, some of which included those science and math metaphors, but I could extract something — even the smallest nugget of understanding — from most of the poems. I never expect to love every poem in a collection anyway.
What Looks Like an Elephant really drove home the point that you shouldn’t avoid poetry because you think it’s going to be too philosophical or too abstract. If I’d passed over this collection, I would have missed out on Nudelman’s skilled use of imagery and (mostly) simple but effective language and his ability to churn up emotions and make me think about the natural world around me and my relationships within it. I don’t take a scholarly approach to poetry; I just read the lines and see how they affect me. There were many times while reading this book that I stopped to contemplate life in general or nodded emphatically over a shared experience, and personally, I believe that’s the best kind of poetry.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.