Mortality Rate inhabits Belfast, Glasgow, London, Berlin, America—or maybe, as Kafka had it, Amerika. Its world is that of the everyday absurd, in which stories (one poem is “a novel condensed”) run on relentlessly, and characters, such as “Amy” and “Sabrina” (possibly an allusion to Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being), pop up in unexpectedly louche places, a lending library, for example. These poems are not disjunctive in the usual jump-cutting ways; the syntax is grammatical, even complex, and the structure is sequential, but in a manner that makes sequentiality feel more than a touch deranged.
Poems begin in the familiar and veer towards the strange. Reading, one is nudged through a looking glass, usually unawares, until at some point, which may be the end of the poem—it can be hard to stop reading—one looks up and asks, “Where am I?” and “How did I get here from there?” Think of Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Now think of it without the framing device, nothing to tip one off to the nested boxes and ground one, as Calvino does, in the cozy world of bookstores and libraries. Elliott strips away any illusion of solidity, leaves one reeling.