Susan Elbe


Susan Elbe is the author of The Map of What Happened, winner of the 2012 Backwaters Press Prize and the Jacar Press 2014 Julie Suk prize for the best book of poetry published by an independent press in 2013. She has one other full-length collection, Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Poetry), as well as two chapbooks, Where Good Swimmers Drown, winner of the 2011 Concrete Wolf Press Chapbook Prize, and Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many literary journals, including Blackbird, Crab Orchard Review, Diode, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and online at Verse Daily. Among her awards are the 7th Annual Oneiros Press Broadside Competition, the Council for Wisconsin Writers' Lorine Niedecker Award, a Rowland Foundation residency to the Vermont Studio Center, and a residency to the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Susan has previously served on the Council for Wisconsin Writers Board of Directors and on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission.


The Map of What Happened (The Backwaters Press, 2013)
Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Poetry, 2007)
Where Good Swimmers Drown (Concrete Wolf Press, 2011) - chapbook
Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press, 2003) - chapbook


Coda: The City Says

Susan Elbe’s “Map” is an elegant work of starkly-hued reminiscence, a love letter to the city that raised her and an unflinching exploration of the littered personal landscape we all must travel. These deftly-crafted stanzas will conjure home for you—wherever that home is, whatever shape it has taken
— Patricia Smith

My name begins with a whisper
and ends with "go", the in-between syllable
caught in your throat
                        like a crow's nagging yawp.

Windy and crooked,
stuck halfway between shining seas,
I have my own ocean,
                        my own sweeping coast.

My eyes reflect iron-gray water,
pigeon-wing sky, a wet, broken light
you can't see into,
                        all of your secrets cached there.

You can't catch my flicker
inside a jar. I’m your nerve and your jugular,
your bullet and needle,
                        your gangster and gangway 

holler, the sweet home guitar
you rub bottleneck blues up against.
I pin a dead-animal
                        smell to your dress,

fill your empty December
pockets with snow, cold as Resurrection
Mary hitching rides
                        down Archer to nowhere.

Any comfort you find here
is 2 a.m. hungry in dim greasy spoons.
You swear you'll never come back,
                        but I'm who you won't leave. 

Out there in the dark, my skirt
of water swings back and forth to
music from open windows,
                         everything juked with longing.

The Map of What Happened (Backwaters Press, 2013)

My, What Big Wishes I Had

From the start of “Where Good Swimmers Drown,” Susan Elbe makes it clear she is at home ‘where the hard edge is,’the lived-in world that breaks us open and keeps us yearning, even as the body ages, the heart fills with ‘lake-bitten wind.’ From the land of small towns, undertakers, ‘burnt-out stars’ and ‘chrome-dented light, Elbe makes a generous poetry that is both elegy and ode to the treasured and forgotten.
— Dorianne Laux

I could not calculate my nature then,
too stunned by street and kitchen din.
Oh, the summer city bruised but did not
burn me, the night’s load of slushy heat caught
by sooty screens that let no breezes in.

That was before your autumn weather’s spin
undid me, its blue, lake-bitten wind,
chrome-dented light, and all its heart-cold plot.
I could not calculate my nature then.

No taffeta and locket, my old friend,
no sweet and butter-crumble, no bride, when
I thought nothing mattered but a love knot.
Loving you was always the long-shot,
a blind bet, underlay, the dividend
                     I could not calculate.

Where Good Swimmers Drown (Concrete Wolf Press, 2011)