A Review of Franki Elliot’s Piano Rats

On one of my many trips to Quimby’s bookstore in Chicago (my favorite bookshop in the world), I took a chance on Franki Elliot’s Piano Rats, a poetry collection published by Curbside Splendor in 2011 after her self-published edition sold out its print run. Elliot lives the whimsical, bohemian twentysomething dream, traveling around the country typing stories for strangers on her 1960’s Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe typewriter. Yes, that level of detail is included in the author bio in the back of Piano Rats. If this sounds somewhat precious, well…it is, but there are worse things to be than precious, and the poems in Piano Rats have real feeling, even if they are sophomoric at points. Franki Elliot feels like the lovechild of Frances Ha and Tyler Knott Gregson.

There are some excellent images in Piano Rats (isn’t that a great title?), as here in “I Thought We Were the Same Person”:

The day the lights went out, you and I sat
at my piano distorting melodies in the dark,
Beethoven and Mendelssohn shaking in their graves.

There are likewise moments of emotions insight wrapped cleverly into the scenes of her poems, as in “Snake” when she discusses meeting a man on the street with a snake tattoo stretching up his arm. He asks her to touch it, and explains he’s been looking all his life for a woman with skin as soft as the snake’s. She goes on to discuss a woman in India who married a snake the townspeople believed to be a deity.

But marrying your own God,
I can’t think of a more dangerous thing,
No matter how soft the skin may feel.

Elliot’s poems are at their best when, as in “Snake,” she is somewhat removed from immediate emotional involvement in their subjects. When she describes a scene, or a friendship, her verses mature above the level of her soupier poems about love and sex. Even those are at least amusing though.

Piano Rats isn’t the best poetry book I’ve read lately, but it was worth a read, and Franki Elliot’s pursuit of authenticity is to be admired. Give it a read if you have the chance.

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