REVIEW: The Elephant’s Mouth by Luke Stromberg

Reviewed by Donna Di Giacomo

“The Elephant’s Mouth” is Luke Stromberg’s much anticipated debut poetry collection, defies conventional poetry. It reads more as biography and memoir–a conversation the author is having with his readers regarding his upbringing. Themes in this poetry collection consist of violation (“The Mugging”) the price of fame, (“Masked & Anonymous”) and the outright mundane (“Personal Grooming”).

In the poem, “The Mugging” is a prime example of how Stromberg uses elements of fiction and journalism in his poetry. He uses minimal space to convey the depth of violation and emotion so the reader can experience being robbed at gunpoint. He makes us think about how it’s not just the act itself which violates a person:

As much as the gun, the robbery, the lifting/Out my wallet, himself, from my back pocket,/His hand’s invasion, was what was violating./ After, the thought of that’s what made me vomit.”

Stromberg’s writing style can draw in people who are not poetry fans with ease, making them think they’re not reading poetry at all. by making us understand that moment in time is intended to linger with the narrator long after the act is done:

Stromberg means exactly what you’re seeing in black and white. He imparts the aftereffects of being robbed “My private world lost its private affect/Now, even sitting in my kitchen alone/I fear I cannot live my life apart … I’ve felt the condensation of his breath/Against my ear in the newly pregnant dark.” As a reader, you want to know how the narrator is getting on in life today.


Luke was born and raised in Upper Darby. The Friends Southwestern Burial Ground was his literal playground as a child, and he pays tribute to the place in his appropriately named poem:

The place is loaded up with dead, but still/The low white tombstones hunkered in the grass/Are baby teeth that bear us no ill will…/Outside its gates, this life’s so thick with grief/That we can hardly wait for that relief.

The title poem discusses how his father’s venture putting his head into an elephant’s mouth as a child in Upper Darby after taking up circus performing on a dare. He brings readers back in time to a visiting circus that stopped coming to town long ago, to Upper Darby that has long since changed.

Following the tradition of songs such as Bob Segar’s “Turn the Page” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” Stromberg explores the theme of the price of fame, in the poem, “Masked & Anonymous”:

Passing a diner and looking through the window/he’ll see the people at the tables … and know that, if he entered, took down his hood/that they might suddenly forget how to act/and when someone approaches, nervously, to ask/’Excuse me, are you – him?’ he has to wonder, ‘Am I?

In the poem, “Night Hours” Stromberg challenges the reader to approach something so cliché from a fresh perspective.

          I think of the individual lives/closed up in houses on narrow streets the morgue’s inventory of cold bodies with purple gun-shot wounds and men in high offices make decisions about the weather.

Finally, on the theme of routine life tasks, Stromberg takes us on a journey of shaving in “Personal Grooming”:

Three times a week, in a mask of foam, with a Bic/disposable razor in my hand, I search/for my face, scraping the stubble from my cheek./The man I see, when I splash myself with water/and wipe the steam off of the mirror, could be me/He stares back at me with a long and searching look.

In his unique way, Stromberg makes a mundane task full of introspection.

“The Elephant’s Mouth” allows readers an opportunity to glance into Luke Stromberg’s life and memories. From his family’s roots in Upper Darby, to documenting his father’s memory of sticking his head into that elephant’s mouth before he lost the ability to recall it, to exploring random themes of everyday life, Stromberg’s writing is clear and concise.


Luke Stromberg’s poetry has appeared in Smartish Pace, The Hopkins Review, The New Criterion, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Golidad Review, Think Journal, The Raintown Review, ONE ART, Cassandra Voices, and several other venues. He also serves as the Associate Poetry Editor of E-Verse Radio. Luke works as an adjunct professor at Eastern University and lives in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.


Donna Di Giacomo is a third-generation Philadelphian. She has been reading Philadelphia Stories since its inception and is elated to finally be reviewing for them. She holds an A. A. and Creative Writing Certificate from Community College of Philadelphia, and a B. A. in Journalism from Temple University (’22). She is the author of Italians of Philadelphia (Arcadia Publishing, 2007). She lives in Philadelphia with her two angels/cats, and enjoys doing genealogy in her spare time.