Bobby Elliott, “Dissenting,” from the 2014 Ocean State Review


I want you on my desk again.
I want you on the roof
in Salvador. So I want you
on the stairs and in the shower, too.
In my bed, in the small of yours.
Against a bright wall and close
to a hallway. A puddle can’t keep
from being shallow,
but a young man can,
is that right? A young man can sit out
on the curb becoming
a river of decency in the rain.


When I was writing the two poems in OSR (this was the spring of 2013), I was recording first drafts on a voice recorder. Only after working out a full first draft would I commit them to paper – by that time, I pretty much knew them by heart. It was an act toward “a more natural language.” I would edit them slightly and let them be. That summer I worked on editing them in earnest, a process I love, and then sent them out.

“Dissenting” is a poem that attempts to deal with and validate longing – longing, in this case, for a person no longer there.  The second half of the poem opens with challenge to that goal, but the poem concludes with the speaker almost mocking the challenge, dissenting.   We are not always decent and sometimes what we consider indecency – desire, for instance – may not be so indecent after all.  Is Kanye out of line when he raps, “I want to fuck you hard on the sink / After that get you something to drink”?  I don’t know.

In The Answers Are Inside the Mountains, William Stafford writes, “Say the things we have always wanted to say.” I’m passionate about that advice, wherever it leads. And then, as I was editing the poems and sending them out, I started reading Brian Russell’s The Year of What Now, which instantly became a cornerstone of my reading life and bookshelf. It’s a tremendous book. I’m eager for the next.

I’ve studied poetry at Sarah Lawrence, where I received a BA in 2011, and at Oxford University, where I was a Gilman Scholar. I don’t have an MFA and have spent the years since graduating working as a journalist and writer – at first in New York City, where I was raised, and now in Portland, where I moved in the summer of 2013 (while I was editing those voice recorder poems). My writing on the arts has appeared in the Huffington Post, Tribes, Picture Sentence and elsewhere and I edited, arranged and wrote the introduction to a retrospective on the very gifted Colombian artist, Alfredo Garzon. My poems have appeared in The Sarah Lawrence Review and OSR.  I now work full-time as a journalist here in Portland, writing about recycling around the world.

I’m focusing on writing and some of that work has begun streaming into a series on Donny Hathaway, a series of portraits (where the subject of the poem actually sits before me and instead of painting/drawing, I write the portrait – or a draft of one) and then I’m writing poems about my sister’s pregnancy – I’m about to become an uncle for the first time. So, in other words, my work is pretty widespread, but all of it continues to be concerned with crafting a more natural, immediate language and I suppose I’m writing about manhood a fair amount, as “Dissenting” shows.