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Autumn 2009, vol 7 no 3

Elvis In Black Leather
by Alexis Rotella
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


The symbols were there—
a young man
with a velvet voice
driving a truck
for Crown Electric

Elvis In Black Leather is more of a chapbook than a book, being only 44 pages long, containing mostly tanka plus one haiku and one senryu, and as you can see, the subject matter is the antithesis of the heartbeat ticking through traditional English language tanka. A single subject thread running through a chapbook of this kind runs the risk of being boring, which this book is not. Japanese avant garde poet Bany'a Natsuishi, recently published a book of haiku titled The Flying Pope, that bored me to tears, lacking originality and resonance. After a while, the term "flying pope" became redundant, probably because Natsuishi's haiku and senryu were about the head of the Roman Catholic Church, a faith he's not a member of.

Rotella pulls off the single theme thread successfully in her chapbook, which is anything but boring. It's one of those tiny books you'll find yourself reading time and time again, snuggled up on a couch in winter beside the fireplace, especially if you are an Elvis fan, which Rotella is.

Elvis was the shy, only son of Gladys and Vernon Presley, living in rural Mississippi. He had a one of a kind face, and stayed mostly to himself at school, having few friends, and spending most of his spare time with his mother or working part-time jobs. His father for a season was in prison. The life he and his mother led was hard and impoverished. Elvis' schoolmates saw him as a loner, a mama's boy, and he was the last person in the world anyone thought would become a teenage rock n' roll idol that would alter the course of American music, and be crowned the king of white rock n' roll.

One day he's a shy young man with an unusual name, driving a truck, and almost overnight, after having a 45 rpm record produced at Sun Studios, Elvis took the region by storm, teenagers calling up radio stations by the thousands requesting the two songs on his 45 rpm record be played again and again. He instantly became a regional heart throb singing at country fairs and other small locales, causing young girls to scream, cry, and throw themselves at him, watching this young man with long sideburns, a sensual mouth, and a singing voice like no other, gyrating his hips, with magnetic sex appeal. Was this the same Elvis Aaron Presley living outside the city limits of Tupelo, Mississippi, in a small house? It didn't take long before his star rose above Tupelo and traveled across America like a comet on caffeine, jockeyed by a clever agent/con man who called himself the Colonel and orchestrated Elvis the Pelvis' every move and appearance. There is only one Elvis. No one even came close to duplicating the combination of sensuality, virility, and voicing Elvis dished out to audiences, on records, and in movies, and who of that era can forget the time Elvis debuted nationally on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York, his body filmed from the stomach up at the demand of censors, who rightfully feared his controversial performances would cause a public outrage by churches and conservative adults. Elvis was now in the public eye and would never leave it. He could go nowhere without notice and young people maniacally screaming and crying. I remember my older sister, a diehard Elvis fan, seeing a small group of teenagers crowded around someone during a break between filming a movie at a ma and pa grocery store, near the small town of Hemet, California. When she saw that the star was Elvis she literally jumped out of my parent's car to get an autograph. Sadly, the pressures of stardom overcame Elvis Presley and at the age of 42, he died from an overdose of prescription drugs.

Chill cry
of the albino peacock
the day I heard
about his death.

I congratulate Alexis Rotella for her ability to capture the real magic of Elvis in 32 short tanka poems.

The way his hair falls
over his left eye
as I press my teenage lips
onto Elvis'
newsprint pout.

Love Me Tender
my wanna-be boyfriend sings
but he's not Elvis
and he'll never
be King.

Elvis Aaron Presley was the daydream of many girls during the height of his fame:

He takes out his wallet
hands me a photo of himself
when I was in grade school—
the haiku I wrote for him
still in pencil on the back

Rotella's tanka are non-traditional in that they don't adhere to the S/L/S/L/L/ schemata indigenous to traditional tanka. She starts her poems with a capital letter and ends them with a period. She doesn't follow a straight spacing format, indenting some of her lines. She lays out her poems in a stylization more akin to free verse imagist and beat poetry, which according to some poets, could truly be the aforementioned . . . but then again, like Elvis, Alexis Rotella is a rebel, an original with her own sense of meter and style. and voicing.

He whips off his cape   a meteor shower.

Jail House Rock—
even grandpa
taps his foot.


Elvis In Black Leather
by Alexis Rotella
Modern English Tanka Press
2009 $9.95
ISBN 978-193539809-7