Colleen J. McElroy is professor emeritus of English and creative writing at the University of Washington. She is the former editor in chief of the literary magazine Seattle Review and has published numerous poetry collections, most recently Here I Throw Down My Heart. Her latest collections of creative nonfiction include A Long Way from St. Louie and Over the Lip of the World: Among the Storytellers of Madagascar. She has received a PEN/Oakland National Literary Award, the Before Columbus American Book Award, two Fulbright Research Fellowships, two NEA Fellowships (in both fiction and poetry), a DuPont Visiting Scholar Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Fellowship.
Blood Memory, Colleen J. McElroy’s collection of narrative poetry, emerges from deep seated memories with enormous emotion. Through the rhythms and musicality unique to McElroy’s voice, it portrays an extended family, a complex culture spanning several decades, multiple victories and failures, and a single brilliant soul that frames the poems. Dedicated to McElroy’s mother, the book is universal in its scope, inescapable in its earthy particularity. McElroy writes, “I am the last female of a family/ of women who wove the fabric/ of stories into doilies and slip covers…/” Blood Memory offers consummate storytelling and unforgettable poetry capturing a place and time gone forever. And as an evolving history, the poetry has a cinematic quality, large and intimate and at the same time, characters utterly vivid.
The poems in Here I Throw Down My Heart prompt readers to see beyond the surface of images, whether that surface is a uniform, a prescribed setting, a familiar geography, or the surface that evokes the most social commentary, skin—the body itself. The modern world moves at a greater speed than the world of a few generations ago, so we look for ways to sort our likes and dislikes, to set our comfort zones. These poems say: “don’t believe everything you see, look again.” The poems look at how borders between countries, or between genders and class have deepened the lines between the haves and have-nots. While everyone is on a collision course for lack of food and water, those dividing lines seem more impenetrable than ever, underscoring the disparity between gender, race, and class.