Review by Mindy Levokove
Rich with irony and conceit, Wonder Electric is a book of poetry which offers a view of life which ratchets up our perceptions, our conceptions and our connections. Elizabeth Cohen brings the reader her message of concern, awareness, and clarity. She heightens and highlights experience with systemic charge and polarity. Her powerful and surprising language attracts and spins, transporting the reader masterfully, as she outlines and underscores her content and concerns.
What happens to the natural, abundant life on earth when our species collects and spreads, trying to wrest the reins of control of nature, which otherwise would simply warm, throb, and thrive? What happens when we are so successful at meeting our objectives and goals that we become so numerous, that we subsume, overtake, and finally overwhelm the valleys, the mountains, the seas and the shores, even the air we breathe, and the atmosphere that sustains us, de-stabilizing the biomes, and endangering many of our fabulous and diverse life forms? What happens when there is so little thought or concern for balance? Where is a commitment to safety and stewardship of our environment, our planet, our lives?
In Wonder Electric, Ms. Cohen deeply examines these themes. In “Wonder Electric” the first poem in the book, she writes, “…Imagine — everything backwards/ and upside down and the children, /everywhere, watching the show“ (12). But she sparks us onward. In “Brahms During Plague” (14), Ms. Cohen shares “… hard beauty, even in difficult weather, / one note at a time.” And we are deeply, nourished by those notes. They fortify us, “one note at a time.”
Ms. Cohen spins us like particles moving in rotation. She brings us to dying whales, and the struggles with climate change (15,16). Then, in “Deer Season”, we find the terrible consequences of our lacking gun control laws. Cohen writes about the degeneration and final loss of beloved parents, and about a sadly empty nest, as children grow up and move on. But in “This Is How You Survive” (29), a prose poem, she writes of a “… bandage of poetry…” The language, the poetry, saves us.
Growing up in New Mexico, (not far from Los Alamos, natal home of the atomic bomb), and having made frequent childhood visits to modern towers and giant power sources in the area, energy and the future became central streams in Cohen’s view, even from a proverbial kitchen window. In the first poem, “Wonder Electric” (11), Cohen writes “… open the refrigerator door,/ a phosphorescent glow/ …protecting soup …”. How attached and dependent we are, on our derived and often destructive, sources of energy!
And finally, in “The End —For Christopher” (36), her ultimate poem, the terminal lines are “…fire/ and earth, water and air/ and light, infinite light.” Here, her final words offer a fresh, new beginning.
A multi-genre author, Elizabeth Cohen is the author of memoirs, short stories and poetry books, including The Hypothetical Girl: Stories (Other Press, 2017), The Patron Saint of Cauliflower (Saint Julian Press, 2016), and Bird Light (Saint Julian Press, 2018). She has received several prizes and honors for her writing, was listed in the New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and was a Barnes and Nobles Discover Great New Writers pick. A former editor of Saranac Review, Ms. Cohen taught Creative Writing at several universities, and for Gotham Writer’s Workshops. She is currently an associate professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, teaching English and Creative Writing.
Wonder Electric by Elizabeth Cohen
Kelsay Books, 2021, $16.50 [paperback] ISBN 9781954353572
Mindy Levokove is a performance poet, and educator. She published her poetry collection, Mount Eden Avenue, (Alien Buddha Press) last year, during the height of the pandemic. She has often curated and featured, and has had poetry in print and, online journals, including Rt Hand Pointing, Curare, Stained Sheets, Clown War and Unlikely Stories Mark IV. In September she was a feature at WEREADS, and HERstory, and was published in First Literary Review-East, and in an upcoming Brevitas Anthology,