Phoenix Poet Elly Finzer on Her First Book, Raising a Family, and the Magic of Life

Oregon-born poet Elly Finzer talks family, hardship, and the magic of life in her new book.EXPAND
Oregon-born poet Elly Finzer talks family, hardship, and the magic of life in her new book.
Courtesy of Elly Finzer

In the first pages of poet Elly Finzer's first full-length book, Says the Speck, readers will find a dedication to one Mrs. Hughes – her sixth-grade teacher. Back when Finzer was her pupil, Hughes stuck a Post-it to her student's class journal that read: “I fully expect to see you published, Michelle.”

Needless to say, it made an impact.

“It was the first time that a grownup had taken an interest in what I was doing – really that was it, that sticky note,” Finzer says. To her it meant, “Here’s your permission to go out into the world and be an artist and be a writer; this is really who you are.”

That was back in small-town Oregon. Nowadays, Finzer's based in Arizona, where she has collected inspiration for her new collection, Says the Speck, released just in time for National Poetry Month.

Some major influences for Phoenix-area poet Elly Finzer.EXPAND
Some major influences for Phoenix-area poet Elly Finzer.
Lauren Cusimano

Finzer has been a permanent Phoenix-area resident since 2004. She moved here with her now ex-husband, so that their 3-year-old daughter, Moon, could still be near her father. Finzer took a job in service, and she and Moon moved to a Central Phoenix apartment. Her neighbor tried to sell her crack. The bathroom ceiling caved in. She had to sue the apartment company to get out of her lease. They slept on a friend’s couch for a while. Which is all to say, she hated Phoenix for two years.

“Every time something would go catastrophically, hilariously wrong I would just go, ‘There’s a poem in here somewhere; I’ll find it,’” she says of those years. Now, Finzer resides in Mesa with her family: her husband, Tyler (they married in 2013), daughter, Moon, son Rex, and baby Leo on the way. She’s a self-described “broke and happy poet.”

Finzer's first full-length book Says the Speck.EXPAND
Finzer's first full-length book Says the Speck.
Courtesy of Kleft Jaw Press

Says the Speck was released on March 25 through Kleft Jaw Press, and it's available for $13. The book totals 87 pages of poetry, prose, and essays, plus work spanning about 15 years. Finzer says the book captures a lot of her life, both ups and downs, and early feedback carries the tone of it being a lengthy manuscript. Her response? “Yeah, but, keep reading.”

Finzer explains writing as something she can leave her children. “For me it starts at home, and then gets bigger... which is why I always come back to poetry,” she says. "Writing is a way of me leaving a legacy."

The book also includes an essay about her now 16-month-old son Rex, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome while she was pregnant. Finzer explains how life can be heavy, but she believes in the magic of it, too. Especially about her son, whom she nuzzles as she speaks. He hugs a bag of Fig Newtons.

Phoenix-area poet Elly Finzer and her 16-month-old son Rex.EXPAND
Phoenix-area poet Elly Finzer and her 16-month-old son Rex.
Lauren Cusimano

“He’s here and he’s Rex, I cannot even imagine him being anybody else, he’s exactly who he needed to be,” she says. “And that’s cool, and he’s super fun.” Pause. “And he’s super cute.”

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The title Says the Speck is a riff on a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, one in which Calvin is surrounded by stars and hollers, “I’m significant!” Nothing happens. The last panel’s speech bubble reads, “Screamed the dust speck.”

Finzer says her collection’s premise may just be "that idea of, ‘I’m trying to be something here,' and then realizing, we’re all trying to be something.’” We’re tiny, we’re all little pieces of dirt, she explains, but we’re saying something.

“We are nothing in this giant, giant world of ours but…” Rex interrupts with a series of raspberries. “Yeah, what Rex said.”

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