A revisitation of 'Crabmeat on the Fifteenth Floor' by James Norcliffe from Fourteen Hills 2


The poetry editorial staff were drawn to this elegant poem. Initially we saw it as a well-constructed piece of privileged confection describing the lives of the white, educated classes. When we read more closely, we said: “Oh, look.”

Look at how the title places us there immediately, high up above the city and look how the tight, little tercets sit so elegantly on the page with that wedge of white space/breathing space between them. Look how the 5 tercets add up to 15 lines in total, echoing the numerical value of fifteen.

Listen how the rhymes of those ‘e’ sounds chime so musically in stanzas 1 and 2." …legs…red…wet…scent…sex:" a small carillon of sound giving the memory a special significance.

Look how the poem starts off on the fifteenth floor then takes off in stanza 3 into "forever" with that combination of "…Riesling and crabmeat." Look how the internal rhyme of "…lingered…and …fingers" actually lingers in the ear and on the eye, subtly driving home its meaning.

Look how the poem magically slides us down in the ultimate stanza via the device of the elevator and leaves us in "… the brilliant lobby" but with the concept of remembering back from long into the future. This poem wastes no line-ending, wastes no word.

Look–we found ourselves saying–at the long columnar shape on the page, like an elevator shaft, visually implying verticality.

Look how Norcliffe takes us on a journey in this poem into the past and the future. He speaks of memory and the way in which sharp moments are frozen in the amber of memory.

I am happy that we looked closely at this exquisite, economical piece and decided collectively to include it in Fourteen Hills 20.1. and that Fourteen Hills readers had the opportunity to enjoy the poetic delights of "Crabmeat on the Fifteenth Floor."

Fourteen Hills Press is staffed exclusively by graduate students in SFSU's Creative Writing program. We publish the annual Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review and annual chapbooks. Fourteen Hills is committed to publishing the best of original poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, and cross-genre work created by writers in the US and abroad.

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