Scott Elder studied at the American University in Paris and the University of Puget Sound. He lived as a street musician in Paris and London, then worked as a mime artist in France and Portugal before taking monastic vows and spending twelve years in retreat in a Buddhist hermitage in France. He now lives in Auvergne with his three teenage children.
Since 2014 his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Rialto, The London Magazine, The New Welsh Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Scotland, The Moth Magazine, Wild Court, Southword Journal, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg, The Interpreter's House, Cyphers, The Alchemy Spoon, The High Window, Here Comes Everyone, Finished Creatures, Nimrod International, The Antigonish Review, The French Literary Review, Crannog Magazine, Erbacce, Big Muddy, Dream Catcher, Acta Victoriana, Quiddity International, Cake, Sentinel Quarterly, The Journal, The Poetry Shed, Bonnie's Crew, Twist in Time, Eye Flash, Obsessed with Pipework, Ekphrastic Review, Three Drops From a Cauldron, Riggwelter, Morphog, Black Bough Poetry, The Friday Poem (online), Anthology of Contemporary Gothic Verse (Emma Press), Anthologies of poems from the Wild Atlantic Words, Poetry Space, Frosted Fire , Arts University of Bournemouth, Aesthetica Creative Writing/Poetry competitions, An Aitiuil Anthology, Iamb~Poetry Seen and Heard, Irisi Magazine, York Literary Review, Steel Jackdaw Magazine, Amethyst Review, The Frogmore Papers, Ink Sweat & Tears, Black Nore and The Fenland Poetry Journal.
He was a runner-up in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2016 and among the winners of the Poetry on the Lake Competition 2021, the Gloucestershire Open Poetry Prize 2021, 2022, the Teignmouth Poetry Competition 2019, the Guernsey International Poetry Competition 2018 and the Southport Writers' Circle Competition 2017. His work has been nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem 2022, highly commended in the Bristol Poetry Prize 2018, Poetry on the Lake International Competition 2018, Buzzwords Poetry Competition 2018, the Brian Dempsey Memorial Competition 2017, shortlisted in the Bridport Poetry Prize 2021, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award 2022, the Fish Poetry Prize 2017, the Plough Prize 2016, 2017 and 2019, the Erbacce Prize 2019, and longlisted in the National Poetry Competition 2018 and the Arts University of Bournemouth International Poetry Prize 2022.
'Breaking Away' (2015) was published by Poetry Salzburg and may be purchased here:
'Part of the Dark' was published by Dempsey & Windle Publishing in 2017. It may be purchased here:
'Maria' was published by Erbacce Press in 2023:
'My Hotel' will be published in 2025 by Salmon Poetry in Ireland.
To listen to a selection of his songs: https://soundcloud.com/user-324751453
In 3rd place, is ‘Beyond the Tent’ by Scott Elder. This is a fascinatingly laid out poem, a duologue, two voices singing together in the plainest of language – and here we do have a real sense of music in the words. The rhythms and aural interplay are much of what make the poem succeed, as well as those discreet internal rhymes (slipped/grip) and alliterations (piece/pitched, slow/sold/scrap). It’s a very good title too. It felt as if it might be part of a narrative sequence, a little drama even, but that doesn’t limit it. Nothing is overdone, nothing is obvious, but nor is it wilfully obscure. What we are given in fewer than 80 words tells an intriguing story, a very sad one if true. I kept asking myself, can so simple a poem really trump all those other filigree flights of intellect and poetic ambition? It does, because it achieves what it sets out to do, brilliantly and subtly.
John Greening, Teignmouth Poetry Competition 2019
1st Prize: A Brew of Tea by Scott Elder
This held me from the first reading. It is a rare example of perfect narration in a very short poem…The poet introduces each element at precisely the right moment. The sound a silence of the poem and the scene it describes are handled beautifully. Melancholy is avoided. The sadness of looking back at past happiness is kept at bay and the beauty of the moment fills the poem.
Tom Sastry, 2022 Open Poetry Competition, Gloucestershire Poetry Society
'Rock Garden at Midnight’ had one returning to it more than once, intrigued by its solidity as a poem and, indeed, by its slightly shadowed humour. A fine poem, indeed, and one might have wished to see more by the same author. The air of just-touched-upon menace pervading the poem suits the immediacy of its sweep; it moves downwards, dragging the complicit reader towards engagement. The style and step-ladder form of the poem, the sparse yet intrusive notion of the lyrics, the music from a window, all come together to form something rich in threatening possibility: this is the drunken detritus of a party, the unpleasant underbelly, the lurch of despair, almost, behind the laughter. It can all be ‘swept away,’ and traces left, in the sand or in memory. One imagines this poem as one of a series built around a similar theme of things imagined and erased. The restraining of energy in the poem is remarkable, there is considerable discipline at work here. "
Fred Johnston, Poetry on the Lake Competition 2018.
There’s a fierce fragility to Scott Elder’s Dieppe, from the sharp intake of breath that ends the first line ‘if’ – to identity itself slipping away, the woman still there ‘your own colour’ and yet gone ‘into that nightscape’…
Glyn Maxwell, Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2016
At Once the River’,
‘A breathless, compelling poem, laced with startling images, that spills from the tongue like rushing water when read aloud.’
Adam Horowitz, Gloucester Poetry Competition 2021
What Scott Elder brings to @iambapoet is concision-and precision-that makes you feel each word was placed in each of these poems with the care and attention of a Swiss watchmaker. Add this to his quiet, composed, delivery and the result is magic.
Mark Antony Owen
My Hotel (draft pamphlet)
"...a wonderfully cohesive series of poems, full of depth and intelligence, and with a pleasing amount of quirkiness and wry humour. I particularly enjoyed the variety of form and voice, here, with some poems containing more than one speaker / style of speech, and an interesting use of shape and / or spacing in others. A very well executed, excellently-written series of works."
Mab Jones, Prole pamphlet competition 2018
Every word, every pause in this cameo of a poem, feels spot on. Like the man’s cigarette tip it is ‘incandescent’ with sounds. I love the whole effect created by the sibilance of words such as ‘displaced’, ‘glass’, ‘reception’, ‘swoosh’, ‘dancing.’
Mandy Pannett, Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition 2018
You will be disappointed if you want poems to be like crossword clues that can be solved and filled in; there are plenty of enigmas and ambiguities here, and I suspect some are too personal to be easily decoded. Think of them as word-pictures and you will be closer to the mark. I don't know how many are actually ekphrastic poems, but several sound as if they could be, and gain their power by etching an image on the mind. Sheenagh Pugh
Pascale Gouverneur interviews Scott Elder who was shortlisted for the erbacce-prize in 2019
Pascale: Hy Scott and welcome to the erbacce journal. Your poetry strikes me as meditative, where ‘the words for an instant steep in silence’ and where there is a ‘dance till words twist from their skin’. We will explore this further, but first though, for the sake of our readers, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Scott: I was born in California but have spent most of my life in France and now live in Auvergne taking care of my three children. As a young man I aimlessly attended university then lived for some years as street musician in Paris and London before training and working as a mime artist in France and Portugal. Afterwards, I took religious vows and went into strict retreat for twelve years in a nearby Buddhist hermitage. Eventually leaving this and the monastery, too, I married a French potter and rebuilt a house here in the countryside. We had three children and I guess it was, in part, the jolt of our separation about six years ago that initiated my writing poetry and composing songs.
Pascale: Street musician, mime artist, monk, and father; from sound to silence to clamor. Could you tell us a little more about that journey from music to mime to ‘disappearance’? What is the life of a street musician? What does it involve exactly to train and work as a mime artist - Marcel Marceau was a well-known mime artist in France who fascinated me -, then become a Buddhist monk?
Scott: As a young busker I was naive and, as such, for the most part, fearless. It was an easy life, butterfly-like, seeking and cherishing beauty. In that little walk-up-to-the-sixth-floor maid’s room in Paris I discovered Dostoevsky, Malory, Plath, classical music, chess, and so much more. The streets offered a variety of performers and I spent time on the road. A few years later, in Mexico City, on a whim, I took a course in pantomime. This led, again, to Paris where the best of teachers could be found. I studied with Marceau’s first wife, Ella Jaroszewicz, and his own teacher, Etienne Decroux, as well as modern and classical dance. The days were full and night was for performing on the streets to pay for classes and rent. This, too, was an easy life. The people around me were impassioned, and the hours and years of training were sheer delight. Afterwards, came the stage… yes!
Life seems full of undercurrents. One of them pulled me like an insistent child might pull on one’s sleeve. Intellectually, a taste of zen in the early days, then aikido with Noro, and yoga with a beautiful young lady. All of these led to an opening of one’s hand and heart to something else, ‘soul searching’, I guess they would say. Portugal was the turning. The rest naturally flowed. I wanted to go to the end but the end kept slipping away.
Pascale: La bohème and the early nourishments; apologies for the crystallization; then an inspired whim into pantomime and embodiment, the art of silence and movement. The multiple allusions to dancing in your poems, almost a tightrope dance forever seeking balance and fighting gravity - both meanings – seem to suggest suspension. Also, would you say that pantomime is the art of silence that awakens all the voices in us? Or does it guide us into total surprise at the world as the French poet Jules Laforgue formulates in Complainte de Lord Pierrot: Tiens ! L’Univers/ Est à l’envers…? Something, someone is ‘à l’envers’ in your poems, upset, upside down, and the last line often expresses puzzlement, or relief, or abandonment…
Scott: In fact, pantomime, revived from the 19th century, seemed too wordy for my taste. ‘Classical mime’ proposed by Etienne Decroux was more abstract and relatively pure; dance, perhaps, even more so. Yes, I’m sometimes haunted with a feeling of ‘suspension’ in time and space, of ever being on the edge of the beat of a metronome, of a space opening or closing, ever falling and trying to make something of the fall as one might work with a false note, attempting to give it just enough context to ring true with the rest. Maybe this comes through in the poems, and maybe rather than ‘à l’envers’ one might say of them ‘de travers’, meaning not quite right, a little out of step and focus. Silence, the unsaid, the unexpected pause, seems, indeed, to be an integral and essential part of the whole. Yes, too, both for the writer and reader, one is invited to walk the fine line between obscurity and a fresh view or feeling of the world. This has been for me, at least up until now, an uncomfortable but seemingly inevitable experience, a little like being lost in a forest. However, I have a feeling that there’s room for change.
Pascale: The passage from mime artist, and aikido and yoga as well, to strict retreat in a Buddhist hermitage seems like extending the pursuit of embodiment even deeper; the body is actually the main instrument, ‘the inevitable experience’, the ultimate sage, where the thoughts are relentlessly brought back to ‘nothing but this’. Does that make sense, or am I just rambling? It seems the words in your poems hover, then haul us back to one instant to be integrated: ‘something terribly more’; ‘she meant war’; ‘you sensed that something was wrong’; ‘as if all were fine’…
Scott: Yes, as mentioned, I was idealistic and wanted to go to the end of things. As a young man I literally aspired to embody beauty itself through creative performance, to be the pigment in the painting, the very notes flowing from a piano or from my own throat. This, of course, naturally brought disillusionment, a life of deaths and rebirths both in the artistic and spiritual spheres of activity. However, somehow, like the woman portrayed in an old Fellini film ‘The Nights of Cabiria’, life itself ever provides inspiration, and in spite of it all, I seem to be ready as ever for the next dance, perhaps, this time, a little more tender with myself and others. This morning I went walking in the forest and felt, as one might, a beautiful and beneficial presence. I touched my forehead and palms to an oak with no longer the desire to embody or fuse, but simply to be open and fully there in that moment together. No, Pascale, for me, you’re not rambling. ‘Nothing but this’, ‘now, and again, now’, is pertinent to me and my writing. The ending lines you’ve cited are maybe simply my own resonance of the apocalyptic era into which we seem to be entering.
Pascale: You wanted to go to the end, but the end kept slipping away; that kind of dis-illusionment must be very liberating in a way, when there is sort of nothing left to hold on to, and we are back to the heart of matter with a totally fresh perspective. Is that one of the moments when poetry came into play, to give silence a voice and to resonate with the world?
Scott: Well, no. There’s a time between death and a new beginning. Writing seems to be inspired or propelled by both. Grief is a hard one to brush away. Satori is a flash of insight, but just a flash. Tendencies run deep and can’t be washed away as easy as that. At least, this is my experience of the beast. So, as such, much of my writing has dealt with the former and my debut collection was entitled ‘Part of the Dark’. The new manuscript seems to be even darker, yet somehow may suggest the faint light of an exit sign like one might see in movie house.
Pascale: A Season in Hell by Arthur Rimbaud wells up here: ‘Un soir, j’ai assis la Beauté sur mes genoux. –Et je l’ai trouvée amère’ (‘One night, I sat Beauty on my lap. –And I found her bitter’). Rimbaud has been with me for as far as I remember. You mentioned Plath earlier; which poets or poems most inspired you, made you think along the way?
Scott: Hmm, Rimbaud, yes, and, for me, Baudelaire was an inspiration. As a child I had a problem with the written word and was pulled back a year for not being able to read. This made studies difficult. In high school I connected with little other than ‘The Raven’, ‘To Helen’ and ‘The Highwayman’. At university, ever behind in the required reading, I took some amphetamines the night before an exam and came across a poem of Wordsworth that knocked me over. The rest came during the years after formal studies. Briefly, I’ve been inspired by many, going back to Donne, Blake, Shakespeare, etc., then Plath, Eliot, Dickinson, Strand, Duffy, Oswald, and a host of other contemporary British and Irish poets. I began seriously writing around 2012 and fell upon Beth Bachmann’s first collection ‘Temper’. Afterwards, I couldn’t write for, at least, nine months till a part of her world seemed to have been integrated into my own. Then the poems began to flow.
Pascale: You hinted at the apocalyptic era which we seem to be entering. Would you say that poetry should be read today more than ever, that the poem is literally a field of action?
Scott: It’s hard to generalize because there seem to be so many exceptions, but, from my own experience poetry is rather a field of reaction, a crafted response to a wave or breeze of unconscious, fears, yearnings, visions, whatever, that wells up and overflows into one’s morning or evening. This seems to involve an opening, be it only a crack, to that intuitive and feminine part of one’s own being and of humanity itself, repressed, over, as some may say, a couple of thousand years or more. One doesn’t need satellite or microscopic photos to know that something’s not right. Instinct, itself, is a fine instrument, and it’s within us all, sending messages from moment to moment. I’ve never felt so akin to a spider, butterfly, or whatever creature comes my way.
Pascale: The words in your poems are fine instruments. I perceive a soft musicality and rhythm, a flowing chant, that contrasts with the often sharp content. Then, we haven’t discussed this yet, but you are a musician. How does it influence your writing?
Scott: The editing of my poems seems to turn as much around how the words ring together as what they may mean as a whole. One might say the same of writing lyrics but in a song the melody usually demands a more ridged adherence to rhythm and rhyme. While in a song melody and lyrics are interdependent, offering each other strength and beauty, the words of a poem must stand alone. For me, when listening to a song, as a child or an adult, it’s always the melody that has drawn my attention. Poems have no melody but certainly can sing through meter, line breaks and the like. I have never studied poetry but work, as I may, through intuition and a sense of what makes a belle courbe. The same might be said of my words and expressions. At times, I feel I’m working with scraps and more than admire those eloquent voices of both today and yesterday. Yet, to each of us a unique garden to cherish and cultivate.
Pascale: A poem is lyrical, maybe not singing to the lyre, but certainly singing in tune with the heart. That’s how I read your poetry. We are almost reaching the end of this interview Scott; what is it that you would want to share with the readers before we conclude?
Scott: Hmm, a poem is lyrical, yes, and even more, a sort of miracle, as life itself. Often upon finishing a poem I wonder if it be the last, but let me tell you a story. Once in the doldrums I plucked the low E string of a guitar and listened closely. I heard, of course, the tone E but felt there was something behind, then, plucked a harmonic and listened for that through the sound of the dominant E and heard it clearly. Then another and another, and, in the end, heard all the harmonics. Finally, I listened for a song based on simple harmonic notes: ‘Frère Jacques’ and it came again and again until the E note stopped vibrating. This to say that all is there, all the time, and we only need to drop our fears and dive.
Pascale: I wonder too about the history behind that well-known nursery rhyme… Also I think of vigilance and the heralding nature of poetry. But yes, let’s end with that particularly subtle note: the vibrating quality of life. Before we dive into your poems though, it has become a tradition at erbacce for the invited poet to choose a colour for the weed on the cover. What is it going to be?
Scott: Blue, cornflower blue.
Pascale: Wild blue it is. Thank you Scott for sharing your honest and enlightening responses. It’s been a delight. Now to your poems…