ELVIS IN BLACK LEATHER
by Alexis Rotella
Modern English Tanka Press, 2009
ISBN 978-193539809 -7
One of the great tragedies of my life is that I was born thirty years too late. I’m sure this was some kind of mistake. Since my birth in 1981 it has become dazzlingly clear that I should, in fact, have been born in time to gain first-hand experience of pink Cadillacs, Buddy Holly, James Dean, Abstract Expressionism, Kerouac, Bebop and the DA haircut. Due to what I can only imagine was an unfortunate clerical error, the stork not only made the mistake of delivering me to the wrong year, but also to the wrong country. Instead of taking my first confident steps in 1950s America, I toddled aimlessly into Thatcher’s Britain. And every now and again I glance longingly over my shoulder at an era to which I’ll never, sadly, belong.
Fortunately, for those of us who never shared the planet with such icons as Monroe, Holly and Dean, there are a handful of consolations. One of them is a small diner, not far from my home, called Mojo’s – a retro hangout that looks like a set from American Graffiti. As well as the red-leather booths, jukeboxes and flashing Coke signs, it’s also home to my favourite item of kitsch paraphernalia – an Elvis clock, complete with swinging hips in place of a pendulum. Oft have I ordered my glass of strawberry shake and watched as those immortal legs danced the hours away above the door to the gents’ toilet. There he is – the King of Rock ‘n Roll – still rockin’.
Although my decade of birth deemed it necessary to modify a DeLorean car in order to travel back in time to the fifties, I have found a much less complex alternative, and perhaps a far more enjoyable one. Alexis Rotella’s Elvis in Black Leather provides almost thirty ways to experience the fifties. Amongst its pages you’ll find a strikingly vivid collection of tanka inspired by the King himself:
Love Me Tender
my wanna-be boyfriend sings,
but he’s not Elvis
and he’ll never
Alexis Rotella’s micropoems, like movies in glorious technicolor, have always succeeded in presenting widescreen panoramas. Like an atomic bomb, they mushroom in one’s mind, taking everything in their wake:
I run home
fast as I can–
on my blue suede shoes.
It’s clear, after only a few pages, that this is not simply a collection of tanka prompted by that great, leather-clad symbol of freedom in fifties America – it’s also a scrapbook of a young girl growing up at a time when growing up was the most exciting thing one could do. It’s the diary of a young girl in love. It’s the photograph album of a young girl with a head full of images. And whilst the image of Elvis swinging his hips has often been lost to the suburbs of taste, ending up above a gents’ toilet in a mock-fifties diner, this pocket-size collection of tanka reminds us why Elvis will always be on our mind. And thanks to Alexis Rotella’s exquisite poetry we, too, can’t help falling in love.