The poetry of Elmo Daley is in nearly every sense remarkable, shot through with surprise, the sonnet for instance virtually redefined, the old Petrarchan and Shakespearean paradigms in places burst casually apart with unexpected syllables, words breaking at line's ending so as to reveal a rhyme that had been hiding latent in a word's interior, lines running short, running long, and at other times perfectly fulfilling the ancient pattern. Daley works with form and is willing to play with it - in the way that only a master can.
The work is infallibly and sometimes painfully honest. The major theme is Catholic, and yet the old pagan gods and demons and satyrs sometimes enter in, are given fair and sympathetic treatment, even as they are hunted down and extirpated. In the poem "In Sunlight, Silent Fields," we hear these words:
Old phallic April, play buffoon no more,
Abandon now that shook-silk emerald glance,
Beneath such delicate decorum pants
The tropic blood of satyrs. All the lore
Priapus taught when first the world began
This swelling root and pregnant seed reveals.
And yet all human tenure passes quickly, and we, the creatures of God, we look around in wonder one day to realize we have been hurled forward to the brink of yet another, more troubling mystery:
Youth passed this way such little while ago....
Daley wrote during the twentieth century, and yet in many ways he was not a part of the general poetic trends of that agonized and war-torn era at all. Perhaps it's the mysticism of Blake or of Yeats, perhaps it's the echo of those religious poets of the late Middle Ages, or perhaps it is simply a poet who has mastered his craft by way of a thorough study of the great tradition of our language and is able to handle those forms with a kind of artistic and linguistic legerdemain. His verse is experimental in the same sense as that of Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, or Theodore Roethke.
And of the haiku, that most perfect of forms - the haikus are marvelous. Here's one that demonstrates both how this poet extemporizes with the forms he's mastered and at the same time suggests his inherent aesthetic:
To be clad in pro-
per raiment, Words demand pre-
cision: they have souls.
In the Introduction to this present volume, my close friend and fellow scholar Ray Oliva remarks that, "Recently I and others were introduced to a virtually unknown Elmo - a distinguished poetic voice of the first order."
Pelican Pond, 2006
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