“Why invent but to fill in the blanks” states the poem “Da Vinci’s Bicycle” in Jim Elledge’s poetry collection Tapping My Arm for a Vein. In this collection, Elledge explores ideas of voyeurism, longing, and much more in a variety of poetic styles.
I have to admit, I was unsure about this collection when I first started reading it. The opening section entitled “Rubble” is full of poems with an odd, jarring syntax that never quite came together in my mind. The awkward rhythm made the words feel rough, giving the section a feeling of rubble, but it was difficult to read, and I’m not sure I understood it even after going over it a few times.
However, in the remainder of the book, the collection really starts to pick up steam. Particular highlights include the poem “A Terrible Body Stalks Mister” from the “Aftermath” section that contains a series of poems about a man named Mister. This poem takes an alternating timeline of short snatches from the hours and days before and after a swimmer drowned and had to be pulled out of the ocean by a search rescue team. With poignant imagery and a feeling of immediacy, it sucked me in. The entire section about Mister is a standout in the collection, but I found myself returning to this poem numerous times. Additionally, I greatly enjoyed the third section entitled “Canticle” which has a repeating theme of voyeurism and violence that is darkly compelling. Indeed, this collection was at its best when examining moments of discomfort, harshness, and the darker aspects of life.
Tapping My Arm for a Vein is recommended for libraries that collect contemporary LGBT poetry. While the collection wasn’t entirely my taste, there are pieces to suit a range of temperaments.
-John Mack Freeman