Review: Shape Taking by Elana Wolff

Reviewed by Lynn Tait

Shape Taking by Elana Wolff (Ekstasis Editions, 2021)

Colour, art, fairytales, surrealism, humour—whether writing about the whites of eggs or bird poop as colour or description, Elana Wolff brings us into her poems with word craft, narrative and beauty. Colour weaves through these poems in blues, whites, reds and greens.

Reading her most recent book Shape Taking feels like walking through someone’s dream world of magic and movement, and we have not knocked before entering. The intellect crashes into the earthly mundane, the everyday of our lives mixed into our fascination with art, and media takes shape and flies. Elana’s speaker plus one is “Watching Netflix”—someone else’s movie, someone else’s story while in their own moment on the sofa they’re freezing, dinner congealed, then suddenly “your hand slips through my skin like spider silk”. The poem ending with a clever take on an old adage renewed.

In “Portico” we’re brought back to childhood with a description of a dead dog written beautifully, before reality sets in and the children run to tell, believing their world a shorter distance then, perhaps, that of the dead dog’s unseen universe.

“Before the Door” a parable of time and power, who is free, who is not; perhaps, a matter of perspective? Elana Wolff’s stanzas jump with surprise and turns of discovery. In “Timepiece” we begin outside an “April landscape—rain on rain”, end up in bed with the “Secret beat of our organs to the syllables of our names” as she manages to make morning breath into something wonderful, worth experiencing and then outside again turning time into a flywheel!

She writes of art, photography and poetry – the awkwardness, the difficult moments of it in “Pulloveria,”  “I Really Liked Your Reading Last Night,” “Tear Near the Knot,” “Blue Rider,” “China Red,” and “Acrylic Pigeon” blending the everyday and Nature’s ever changing rhythm with, again, the glory of colour, the surprises of paint.

In “Jejune” a poem that reminded me of Plath, “This tongue was never altogether mine” where the speaker admits, “I dreamt a guttural country, desert mountains at the heart and woke up parched.” And in “Some Days I Think” the speaker writes the surreal yet simply put: “I saw myself/ seeing myself”. Elana Wolff takes us on a wild ride, wonderfully strange yet familiar, reminding the reader of childhood, hidden memories, seasons and storms past, and the vibrant, varying shades that are parts of the small moments of our lives.

Shape Taking by Elana Wolff (Ekstasis Editions, 2021)

80 pp ISBN: 9781771714457

Elana Wolff is the author of seven collections of poetry and a collection of essays on poems. She has also co-authored, with the late Malca Litovitz, a collection of rengas; co-authored, with Susie Petersiel Berg, a limited-edition chapbook of poems; and co-translated, with Menachem Wolff, poems from the Hebrew by Georg Mordechai Langer. Elana’s poems and creative nonfiction pieces have appeared in Canada and internationally and have garnered awards. She has taught English for Academic Purposes at York University in Toronto and at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She currently lives and works in Thornhill, Ontario. Elana’s sixth collection, Swoon (Guernica Editions, 2020), received the 2020 Canadian Jewish Literary Award for Poetry. Shape Taking is her seventh book of poems.

Lynn Tait is an award-winning poet/photographer residing in Sarnia, Ontario. Her poems have appeared in FreeFall, Vallum, CV2, Literary Review of Canada, Trinity Review, The Quarantine Review and in over 100 anthologies. She is a member of the Ontario Poetry Society and the League of Canadian Poets.