Wednesday, January 6, 2021

For to See the Elephant: A Novel in Verse and an Autographed Giveaway

 Congratulations to Tricia Clark who won Letters from Space.


Six months ago, author Tammi J. Truax contacted me after reading my review of Orchards on Goodreads. She deduced that I liked free verse historical novels and offered to send me a copy of her book, For to See the Elephant (Piscataqua Press, 2019) Come with me into the pages of this amazing chronicle of the first two elephants who came to America, their keeper, and the people whose lives these honorable animals touched. This is a work of fiction, but as the author notes, "the found poems included in the work are taken from diaries, newspaper articles, advertisements, and songs from the time period." It is a saga of the enslaved.



REVIEW

For to See the Elephant is written from several different points of view including the men who purchased the elephants, the slave boy William who is their keeper, the elephants, and Hachaliah Bailey. A different font is used for each point of view and their voices are all distinctive. To best see the beauty of the poetry, I'm sharing excerpts from several different entries. The elephants' POV are written in narrative.

GAJA, At leaving Bengal, India, October 1795

My mahout was conflicted that day. I could tell by the silent language of his body. Further, I could tell that he needed me to go where he was leading me, but that in his heart he did not really want me to go. I also knew I had been sold...I let out a trumpeting roar, one I knew he could hear as his little bare feet flew across the wharf in the opposite direction that I was headed. I was but a baby and had never been left alone before. (p. 2, 5)


Captain Jacob Crowinsheild at sea. December 1795


I say with certainty

I've never heard 

a sadder sound 

than the cry of 

The Elephant.

Adding to the misery

of the cries,

the beasts thrusts itself

in rhythm with the rise

and fall of the sea,

against the pen

built to hold her.... (p. 9)


William at sea 1795


captain said
I'm to take care of
the Elephant
me
the smallest one here
captain said
I'm African 
so I should know-
what that mean

captain said

get the beast 
to calm down
and clean up
all her mess

captain ain't said
how (p. 11)

Mister Welshaven Owen, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. June 1976


Tonight she makes
her stage debut!
I have rented out
the Elephant
to the Philadelphia Theatre.

I'll have the boy
wash and oil her all up.
Not sure if I'll let the boy
take her on stage
or if I'll do it. 

She seems to like the boy
much more than me. (p. 21)

William on the Maine/New Hampshire border. late 1802


i know why 
folks call her
ugly or beast
or whatnot
i been called
lots of names too
some folks just dont
see things proper
sure she all wrinkled
an got a funny nose
an ears big enough
to make lookers laugh
but they missing somethin
so important

they not having
a good up-close
honest look
in her eye
all her beauty there
in her eye
it looks like
a topaz marble
a boy once showed me

an her pretty eye
have long lashes
that flutter like
a little birds wing

a big beautiful
round eye
full of feelings
.....(pp.54-55)

[Gaja is seriously injured when she falls from a bridge spanning the Connecticut River. ]

William, Amherst, Massachusetts. November 1803


she was hurt bad
I tole em all
she couldn't get up
gave her what comforts I could

I was so sorry
for what happened
but what I mos felt
was angry

I couldn't barely
stand for it
when they drug her
up the hill like that

finally got her
in the barn
master said hes
going to charge

people a nickel
for to see
the dying elephant
an he did...

....me and gaja
we lived likewise lives
I think she knew it  (pp. 74-76)

BIG BETTE IN A BARN AT BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. January 1804


I CAN TELL THIS IS NOT MY HOMELAND. I DIDN'T THINK I COULD BEAR IT WHEN I DETERMINED THAT FACT SHORTLY AFTER OUR ARRIVAL. I REALLY DID NOT. WHEN I WAS DELIVERED TO MORE STRANGERS AND MY LEG WAS CHAINED IN THIS NEW BARN I CALCULATED HOW I COULD TEAR DOWN THE WALL WITH MY LEG IF I USED ALL OF MY STRENGTH, AND PICK UP ANY OF THE MEN THAT CAME NEAR ME. SIMPLY PICK THEM UP AND CRACK THEM AGAINST A BEAM IN THEIR OWN FILTHY BUILDING....

AND THAT IS WHEN I MADE THE ACQUAINTANCE OF THE NEW MAHOUT I BELIEVE HIM TO BE FROM MY HOME LAND. HE DOESNT SEEM TO BELONG HERE EITHER. HE SHOWED ME THAT THE MEASURE AND CONTENT OF HIS HEART IS THE SAME AS MY OWN... (P. 84)

Hachaliah Bailey in a tavern at Danbury Ct. Spring, 1806


Of course I need to make some changes.
This is my livelihood.
I need the keeper to understand that.
I want him to teach
the Elephant
some more amusing tricks.

I intend to purchase more animals
we can pull along in cages.
And we must take to traveling by night.
Far too many people
are getting a free look at
the Elephant. (p.92)

[Big Bess is shot by a man who had been drinking. William is forced to help dig her grave.]

William, April 1816


...the thought that struck me was
maybe its just time

for me to go
to walk away
theres no more elephants

for me to take care of
this is a place
where maybe
maybe I can
make my own way
in the world

those merry dancers [Shakers]
told me I'd be welcome
at their holy land
and theres indians
up in the woods
where a man can live free
some kind of way
....

dug the dang hole
dug til my hands bled
   my back ached
but my back
wasnt the part of me
   hurtin most

(p. 173-4)


Hachaliah Bailey, Town Hall at Alfred, Maine. April 1816


I can't state plainly enough
that I want that man, that criminal
brought to justice. Further I expect 
to be reimbursed for my losses
which since I came to this town
have been egregiously high.
That elephant was worth
more than a thousand dollars!
And how my elephant keeper
has gone missing!
He's worth nearly that much.
My stop in your town
may just bankrupt me. (p. 176)

Boston, 1797


THE END...PERHAPS THE SPIRIT OF BIG BETTE THE MATRIARCH TODAY


I WAS MURDERED, WITHOUT CAUSE, AND, JUST LIKE GAGA, MY SKIN AND BONES WERE TAKEN IN A GRUESOME WAY AND PUT ON DISPLAY. OLD MAN BAILEY STILL PROFITED BY MY EXHIBITION, DRAGGING THE DEAD ME FROM PLACE TO PLACE. UNTIL AT LAST MY FLESH AND BONES WERE SOLD TO P.T. BARNUM, TO BE SHOWN FOR PROFIT, IN HIS LITTLE MUSEUM OF ODDITIES...IT IS OFT CLAIMED THAT MY REMAINS WERE LOST TO A FIRE THAT CONSUMED BARNUM'S BUILDING AND CREMATION IS AT LEAST, A MORE RESPECTFUL WAY TO TREAT SACRED REMAINS....  (P.191)


CURRICULUM RESOURCE


This novel would be an excellent curriculum resource for middle and high school language arts or history classes. I would love to hear students discuss the content as well as the beautiful way in which Ms. Truax delivered the story.  For more information on her other poetry projects, please consult her website.

BACKSTORY


When I asked Ms. Truax what inspired her to write this story she replied, "I had interviewed an elderly woman who still lived on property that had been in her family for a couple of hundred years. She told me that once long ago "an elephant had stopped by to drink from the well". I was intrigued by that but didn't get serious about research until I heard about the murder of an elephant in Maine and thought that must have been the same elephant. Then I took in on as a NaNoWriMo project in 2015."

                                      Tammi J. Truax next to the roadside marker
                                      in Alfred, Maine where Big Bette was killed.


GIVEAWAY


I have an autographed copy ready to be mailed to one of you. Please leave me a comment (along with your email address if you are not a frequent commenter) by 6 PM on January 8. If you subscribe to my blog I'll enter your name twice!

22 comments:

Becky Scharnhorst said...

This sounds like a fascinating story. I love how it’s told through many different characters and voices.

Ann Finkelstein said...

The book looks fantastic. Thanks for telling me about it.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thank you Ann and Becky. Your names start the list.

Connie Porter Saunders said...

Using different voices to tell the story makes this so intriguing. I follow you and appreciate this giveaway.
Connie
cps1950 (at) gmail (dot) com

Carol Baldwin said...

I think you would like this book, Connie. Thanks for following me!

Danielle H. said...

Novels in verse have been my favorites. I am intrigued by this one with multiple points of view, including an elephant's.

Carol Baldwin said...

You'd love this book too, Danielle!

JoyceHostetter said...

Oh Tammi, the language is so beautiful and deeply moving! Carol, you did a great job sharing just enough with us. Sign me up for the contest, please!

Carol Baldwin said...

I knew you'd love it, Joyce!

Jana Leah B said...

My mom loves elephants. This would be a unique gift for her.
turtle6422 at gmail dot com

Unknown said...

Thank you Joyce, and everyone, especially Carol!

Carol Baldwin said...

Jana Leah, your mother would LOVE this book--but it will make her cry!

Tammi--it was my honor to introduce this book to my friends!

Jolene GutiƩrrez said...

This book sounds fascinating--I have a current-day elephant story (also in verse and multiple POVs), so I'm excited to read this and learn more/possibly use the book as a mentor text. And my students love verse novels, so I'll be checking out For to See the Elephant. Thank you so much for sharing, Carol and Tammi.

Unknown said...

How exciting Jolene! I look forward to reading yours. And I am happy to Zoom with students.

Carol Baldwin said...

Great to hear your voice, Jolene. I hope you share the book with your students and it sounds like a great mentor text for you!

Jolene GutiƩrrez said...

Thank you so much, Tammi and Carol! :D

Unknown said...

This book sounds wonderful! I love novels in verse and am excited to read one that is told from multiple POVs.

Carol Baldwin said...

I'm not sure who this is--but if you can identify yourself I can thank you appropriately! (And enter your name in the giveaway)

Jilanne Hoffmann said...

I am currently at work on a historical MG novel in verse, so this sounds like a great mentor text. Thanks for featuring! Cheers!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, JIlane. You're in. Check out my blog for other verse novels I've reviewed!

Unknown said...

I love the title and was hooked from the first few lines, and felt the life of challenge so subtly conveyed. Well done and thanks.
Also happy to be included in the contest(if it's still on) ...but appreciate I may be a bit far away?

Frank S

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Frank. Yes, the contest is over!

UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC- Part I by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta

Please welcome back Elliott Kurta with his evaluation of an 8-book series by Sarah Mlynoski, Lauren Myracle , and Emily Jenkins.          R...