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Flapper Press Poetry Café: Maril Crabtree, The Memphis Poet Who "Danced with Elvis"

Updated: Sep 2, 2022

By Annie Newcomer:

The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work of poets from all over the world. This week, we feature the work of Maril Crabtree.

Maril Crabtree, Photo by B.A. Saidel

Maril Crabtree grew up in Memphis and New Orleans but has called the Midwest “home” for many years. A former French teacher, lawyer, peace activist, environmentalist, energy healer, and yoga instructor, she is grateful for poetry (hers and others’) as the loom that weaves her life-threads together. She agrees with Ed Hirsch that poetry is a “way of knowing, of honoring our solitudes and recognizing our interdependencies” and believes that a poem’s apothecary of words, of sounds spoken and absorbed, can be a healing force in our culture.

Her full-length collection, Fireflies in the Gathering Dark (Kelsay Books), was published in 2017. She has also authored three chapbooks and edited four anthologies of poetry and essays published by Adams Media. Her poems, essays, and short stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including I-70 Review, Main Street Rag, Persimmon Tree, Third Wednesday, Literary Mama, and Poet's Market. She previously served as poetry editor for Kansas City Voices and contributing editor for Heartland! Poems of Love, Resistance & Solidarity. More of her work can be seen on her website.

Meet Maril Crabtree!


AN: Welcome to Flapper Press Poetry Café, Maril. Nearly 15 years ago, after a huge loss, I gravitated to poetry. Uncertain of how to proceed in this endeavor, I asked if you might meet me at a small café for breakfast. Relying on my sixth sense, I just "knew" that you might give me some guidance after observing the esteem in which the Kansas City literary community held you.

Indeed, you reminded me of Barbie Guth, a champion swimmer at my local childhood city swimming pool in Upstate New York. While only a single year older than I, and in a competitive sport, Barbie was willing to help me even though I could barely keep my head above water. But I loved swimming and wanted to learn. People like you and her demonstrate a special type of kindness in the way you share your skills with others.

Over the years when I've asked you to meet at coffeeshops so that I can introduce you to novice poets or poetic souls who I think need encouragement, you have always made yourself available. I so respect you, and it is an honor to interview you for this piece.

MC: Thanks so much, Annie. As you know, I appreciate any opportunity to share what I’ve learned and pass along my love of poetry, both reading and writing it. Whenever I do that, it feels like I’m “paying it forward,” since I received the same generous sharing from many others.

AN: I would like to start with one of my favorite poems, "Dancing With Elvis." This is a poem that I feel never ages. Each time I read it, I am filled with joy. When I turn the page in your chapbook of the same name and see the second stanza, this catapults me into the present. Even now, after so many readings and I know what is coming, I am delighted.

Also, my parents were extremely strict. None of what you describe in this poem existed in my childhood because it was taboo, so your poem gives me a chance to enter this experience vicariously. Therefore, while I never experienced what you did, I have a sense of what it might have been like, through your poem.

If I am not being too obscure, can you address this “creative intelligence” in a poet, where they are able to "bring" a reader along into their experience this way? Did you have this thought out before you wrote the poem?

Elvis & Maril Crabtree, Photo by Sandy Mitchell

MC: I grew up in Memphis but left at the beginning of seventh grade, just before Elvis became famous. That didn’t stop me, though, from daydreaming about what it would be like to “run into” him when I came back to visit relatives from time to time. What triggered the poem, though, was what I describe in Section 2: decades after his death, running into a giant cardboard Elvis on Beale Street. Of course, I had to have my picture taken with him!

What I hoped to accomplish with this poem was to show the role our memories play, over and over, and how our memories can not only trigger feelings of the past but can also be a catalyst for digging deeper into our emotions. Even a cardboard cutout of a famous figure we’ve never met can be a springboard for so much more. In this case, the sensual daydream language of Section 1 is the result. When I wrote those words, I actually pictured myself as a teenager and got in touch with how we used to spend a lot of time fantasizing with various romantic scenarios. That’s the part I think a lot of women might identify with.

AN: Maril, I think that this would be a perfect place to include your "Elvis" poem.

MC: Yes. I remember endlessly playing “Heartbreak Hotel” on my 45 rpm record player—a good song to daydream to! Not everyone is an Elvis fan, but I think a lot of us can relate to our famous heroes or heroines in a similar way.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk on Visualhunt

Dancing With Elvis


He rounds the curve on my suburban Memphis street.

Music blares from his gold Cadillac. He looks at me,

eyes misty but pouring into mine.

like they’ve found home. Stars drift from his mouth

when he says my name (how did he know my name?

But then I know his.) He says


(he knows i'm a woman though i'm barely fourteen)

and i say sure, glad i've put on my new white shorts

and washed my hair so it flips up

instead of having to be dragged into a ponytail

(he sees so many women in ponytails

and i am different, i will save him).

i climb into that big rich leather front seat

and sit in the middle, not hugging the door,

sure of myself, sure that he'll see that i can give him

what nobody else can. He smiles that lazy smile

and his dimples come out and i get woozy

and want to fall right into his mouth, dive in and slide

into his insides, find the part of him that nobody sees

and pull it out, shining, the golden calf

truly worthy of worship. He takes my shoulders,

draws me close, curls his arm around me, can't he hear

my heart thumping louder and louder, my blood buzzing—

let me stay here driving with Elvis forever.


I round the corner of Beale Street,

heart of the tourist section.

I see him, standing in the Visitors' Information store,

four-color smile with dimples pasted on, the man

whose legs twitched and made my teenage gut itch

every time they did — Here he is, a life-size cutout posed

under the sign saying "Welcome to Memphis," those

famous hips cocked and loaded, ready for action. He says


and he seems to remember our drea