Cover image for Smoke : poems
Title:
Smoke : poems
Author:
Laux, Dorianne.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Rochester, NY : BOA Editions, 2000.
Physical Description:
72 pages ; 24 cm.
Language:
English
Subject Term:
ISBN:
9781880238851

9781880238868
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library PS3562.A8455 S66 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

Laux weaves the warp and woof of ordinary life into extraordinary and complex tapestries.


Summary

Dorianne Laux's long-awaited third book of poetry follows her collection, What We Carry , a finalist for the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. In Smoke , Laux revisits familiar themes of family, working class lives and the pleasures of the body in poetry that is vital and artfully crafted--poetry that "gets hard in the face of aloofness," in the words of one reviewer. In Smoke , as in her previous work, Laux weaves the warp and woof of ordinary lives into extraordinary and complex tapestries. In "The Shipfitter's Wife," a woman recalls her husband's homecoming at the end of his work day:

Then I'd open his clothes and take
the whole day inside me--the ship's
gray sides, the miles of copper pipe,
the voice of the foreman clanging
off the hull's silver ribs. Spark of lead
kissing metal. The clamp, the winch,
the white fire of the torch, the whistle,
and the long drive home.
And in the title poem, Laux muses on her own guilty pleasures:
Who would want to give it up, the coal
a cat's eye in the dark room, no one there
but you and your smoke, the window
cracked to street sounds, the distant cries
of living things. Alone, you are almost
safe . . .

With her keen ear and attentive eye, Dorianne Laux offers us a universe with which we are familiar, but gives it to us fresh.

Dorianne Laux is the author of two previous collections of poetry from BOA Editions, Ltd., and is co-author, with Kim Addonizio, of The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Joys of Writing Poetry (W.W. Norton, 1997), chosen as an alternate selection by several bookclubs. Laux was the judge for the 2012 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Contest, and is a tenured professor in the creative writing program at the University of Oregon. Laux lives in Eugene, Oregon.


Author Notes


Dorianne Laux was born in 1952 in Augusta, Maine and is of Irish, French and Algonquin Indian heritage. In 1983 she moved to Berkeley, California where she began writing in earnest. Five years later she earned her B.A. degree in English from Mills College. Laux's first book of poems, Awake, published by BOA Editions in 1990, was nominated for the San Francisco Bay Area Book Critics Award for Poetry. Her poetry has appeared in numerous American journals and anthologies. She has received poetry fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently, she teaches creative writing at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon.



Dorianne Laux was born in 1952 in Augusta, Maine and is of Irish, French and Algonquin Indian heritage. In 1983 she moved to Berkeley, California where she began writing in earnest. Five years later she earned her B.A. degree in English from Mills College. Laux's first book of poems, Awake, published by BOA Editions in 1990, was nominated for the San Francisco Bay Area Book Critics Award for Poetry. Her poetry has appeared in numerous American journals and anthologies. She has received poetry fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently, she teaches creative writing at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon.


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The poems of Laux's new collection are bound together by images of smoke and fire--tightly, but never so tightly as to seem restrained or constrained. Laux's expansive style opens up each poem, so that we move beyond its situation into a wilder, more extreme place. The most affecting of these remarkable poems are about a lover's death. "Someone I love is dying," one baldly begins, then discloses a world in which "everything is hideously symbolic" at a time when "all I've wanted is the blessing / of inattention . . . To eat a bowl of cereal and not imagine him, / drawn thin and pale, unable to swallow." Such flat-out, searing openness to life is Laux's trademark, and the poems of loss and grief in this book are desperately moving. But Laux does not leave us in a death-shadowed valley, for the final poems here throb with life, love, and, yes, fire. Patricia Monaghan


Publisher's Weekly Review

It is not surprising that each of Laux's and Addonizio's third collections of poems are being published in close proximity by the same house. In 1997 the pair coauthored The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (Norton); both have published two previous collections with BOA; both use candid and unsentimental personal history as a prime subject matter; and both have stronger work in earlier collections. Many of Addonizio's (Jimmy & Rita) straight-talk poems in Tell Me, dedicated to Laux, depict honest characters who are in the destructive, but often unrevealing, clutches of hard-drinking, doomed relationships, and all manner of problems that subsequently arise. Some of the poems raise the question of what happens when you risk emotional honesty and it doesn't work: in "The Divorcee and Gin," she writes, "God, I love/ what you do to me at night when we're alone,/ how you wait for me to take you into me/ until I'm so confused with you I can't/ stand up anymore." The situations are often compelling, and the performancelike language lends them an air of melodrama that many be intentional, but they don't really rise above the status of well-lineated memoir. The largely domestic and narrative poems of Laux's Smoke shift between internal and external landscapes in a manner that at moments recalls early Richard Hugo: "Somewhere/ a Dumpster is ratcheted open by the claws/ of a black machine. All down the block/ something inside you opens and shuts." Her strongest work here achieves a solid music by using direct address in poems such as "Books" and "The Shipfitter's Wife." Yet the plainspoken approach, aiming at understatement, often specifies too little, letting emotional nuance go unarticulated. While both poets may work in parallel registers, the effect of each is distinct. Unfortunately, many poems in both books do not quite locate the seemingly powerful places that generate the work. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

The poems of Laux's new collection are bound together by images of smoke and fire--tightly, but never so tightly as to seem restrained or constrained. Laux's expansive style opens up each poem, so that we move beyond its situation into a wilder, more extreme place. The most affecting of these remarkable poems are about a lover's death. "Someone I love is dying," one baldly begins, then discloses a world in which "everything is hideously symbolic" at a time when "all I've wanted is the blessing / of inattention . . . To eat a bowl of cereal and not imagine him, / drawn thin and pale, unable to swallow." Such flat-out, searing openness to life is Laux's trademark, and the poems of loss and grief in this book are desperately moving. But Laux does not leave us in a death-shadowed valley, for the final poems here throb with life, love, and, yes, fire. Patricia Monaghan


Publisher's Weekly Review

It is not surprising that each of Laux's and Addonizio's third collections of poems are being published in close proximity by the same house. In 1997 the pair coauthored The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (Norton); both have published two previous collections with BOA; both use candid and unsentimental personal history as a prime subject matter; and both have stronger work in earlier collections. Many of Addonizio's (Jimmy & Rita) straight-talk poems in Tell Me, dedicated to Laux, depict honest characters who are in the destructive, but often unrevealing, clutches of hard-drinking, doomed relationships, and all manner of problems that subsequently arise. Some of the poems raise the question of what happens when you risk emotional honesty and it doesn't work: in "The Divorcee and Gin," she writes, "God, I love/ what you do to me at night when we're alone,/ how you wait for me to take you into me/ until I'm so confused with you I can't/ stand up anymore." The situations are often compelling, and the performancelike language lends them an air of melodrama that many be intentional, but they don't really rise above the status of well-lineated memoir. The largely domestic and narrative poems of Laux's Smoke shift between internal and external landscapes in a manner that at moments recalls early Richard Hugo: "Somewhere/ a Dumpster is ratcheted open by the claws/ of a black machine. All down the block/ something inside you opens and shuts." Her strongest work here achieves a solid music by using direct address in poems such as "Books" and "The Shipfitter's Wife." Yet the plainspoken approach, aiming at understatement, often specifies too little, letting emotional nuance go unarticulated. While both poets may work in parallel registers, the effect of each is distinct. Unfortunately, many poems in both books do not quite locate the seemingly powerful places that generate the work. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One SMOKE Who would want to give it up, the coal a cat's eye in the dark room, no one there but you and your smoke, the window cracked to street sounds, the distant cries of living things. Alone, you are almost safe, smoke slipping out between the sill and the glass, sucked into the night you don't dare enter, its eyes drunk and swimming with stars. Somewhere a Dumpster is ratcheted open by the claws of a black machine. All down the block something inside you opens and shuts. Sinister screech, pneumatic wheeze, trash slams into the chute: leftovers, empties. You don't flip on the TV or the radio, they might muffle the sound of car engines backfiring, and in the silence between, streetlights twitching from green to red, scoff of footsteps, the rasp of breath, your own, growing lighter and lighter as you inhale. There's no music for this scarf of smoke wrapped around your shoulders, its fingers crawling the pale stem of your neck, no song light enough, liquid enough, that climbs high enough before it thins and disappears. Death's shovel scrapes the sidewalk, critches across the man-made cracks, slides on grease into rain-filled gutters, digs its beveled nose among the ravaged leaves. You can hear him weaving his way down the street, sloshed on the last breath he swirled past his teeth before swallowing: breath of the cat kicked to the curb, a woman's sharp gasp, lung-filled wail of the shaken child. You can't put it out, can't stamp out the light and let the night enter you, let it burrow through your infinite passages. So you listen and listen and smoke and give thanks, suck deep with the grace of the living, blowing halos and nooses and zeros and rings, the blue chains linking around your head. Then you pull it in again, the vein-colored smoke, and blow it up toward a ceiling you can't see where it lingers like a sweetness you can never hold, like the ghost the night will become. * * * LAST WORDS for Al His voice, toward the end, was a soft coal breaking open in the little stove of his heart. One day he just let go and the birds stopped singing. Then the other deaths came on, as if by permission-- beloved teacher, cousin, a lover slipped from my life the way a rope slithers from your grip, the ocean folding over it, your fingers stripped of flesh. A deck of cards worn smooth at a kitchen table, the jack of spades laid down at last, his face thumbed to threads. An ashtray full of pebbles on the window ledge, wave-beaten, gathered at day's end from a beach your mind has never left, then a starling climbs the pine outside-- the cat's black paw, the past shattered, the stones rolled to their forever-hidden places. Even the poets I had taken to my soul: Levis, Matthews, Levertov-- the books of poetry, lost or stolen, left on airport benches, shabby trade paperbacks of my childhood, the box misplaced, the one suitcase that mattered crushed to nothing in the belly of a train. I took a rubbing of the carved wings and lilies from a headstone outside Philadelphia, frosted gin bottles stationed like soldiers on her grave: The Best Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing. How many losses does it take to stop a heart, to lay waste to the vocabularies of desire? Each one came rushing through the rooms he left. Mouths open. Last words flown up into the trees. * * * BOOKS You're standing on the high school steps, the double doors swung closed behind you for the last time, not the last time you'll ever be damned or praised by your peers, spoken of in whispers, but the last time you'll lock your locker, zip up your gym bag, put on your out-of-style jacket, your too-tight shoes. You're about to be done with it: the gum, the gossip, the worship of a boy in the back row, histories of wheat and war, cheat sheets, tardies, the science of water, negative numbers and compound fractions. You don't know it yet but what you'll miss is the books, heavy and fragrant and frayed, the pages greasy, almost transparent, thinned at the edges by hundreds of licked thumbs. What you'll remember is the dumb joy of stumbling across a passage so perfect it drums in your head, drowns out the teacher and the lunch bell's ring. You've stolen A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from the library. Lingering on the steps, you dig into your bag to touch its heat: stolen goods, willfully taken, in full knowledge of right and wrong. You call yourself a thief. There are worse things, you think, fingering the cover, tracing the embossed letters like someone blind. This is all you need as you take your first step toward the street, joining characters whose lives might unfold at your touch. You follow them into the blur of the world. Into whoever you're going to be. * * * DEATH COMES TO ME AGAIN, A GIRL Death comes to me again, a girl in a cotton slip. Barefoot, giggling. It's not so terrible, she tells me, not like you think: all darkness and silence. There are wind chimes and the scent of lemons. Some days it rains. But more often the air is dry and sweet. We sit beneath the staircase built from hair and bone and listen to the voices of the living. I like it, she says, shaking the dust from her hair. Especially when they fight, and when they sing. * * * RAY AT 14 Bless this boy, born with the strong face of my older brother, the one I loved most, who jumped with me from the roof of the playhouse, my hand in his hand. On Friday nights we watched Twilight Zone and he let me hold the bowl of popcorn, a blanket draped over our shoulders, saying, Don't be afraid. I was never afraid when I was with my big brother who let me touch the baseball-size muscles living in his arms, who carried me on his back through the lonely neighborhood, held tight to the fender of my bike until I made him let go. The year he was fourteen he looked just like Ray, and when he died at twenty-two on a roadside in Germany I thought he was gone forever. But Ray runs into the kitchen: dirty T-shirt, torn jeans, pushes back his sleeve. He says, Feel my muscle, and I do. Copyright © 2000 Dorianne Laux. All rights reserved.
Chapter One SMOKE Who would want to give it up, the coal a cat's eye in the dark room, no one there but you and your smoke, the window cracked to street sounds, the distant cries of living things. Alone, you are almost safe, smoke slipping out between the sill and the glass, sucked into the night you don't dare enter, its eyes drunk and swimming with stars. Somewhere a Dumpster is ratcheted open by the claws of a black machine. All down the block something inside you opens and shuts. Sinister screech, pneumatic wheeze, trash slams into the chute: leftovers, empties. You don't flip on the TV or the radio, they might muffle the sound of car engines backfiring, and in the silence between, streetlights twitching from green to red, scoff of footsteps, the rasp of breath, your own, growing lighter and lighter as you inhale. There's no music for this scarf of smoke wrapped around your shoulders, its fingers crawling the pale stem of your neck, no song light enough, liquid enough, that climbs high enough before it thins and disappears. Death's shovel scrapes the sidewalk, critches across the man-made cracks, slides on grease into rain-filled gutters, digs its beveled nose among the ravaged leaves. You can hear him weaving his way down the street, sloshed on the last breath he swirled past his teeth before swallowing: breath of the cat kicked to the curb, a woman's sharp gasp, lung-filled wail of the shaken child. You can't put it out, can't stamp out the light and let the night enter you, let it burrow through your infinite passages. So you listen and listen and smoke and give thanks, suck deep with the grace of the living, blowing halos and nooses and zeros and rings, the blue chains linking around your head. Then you pull it in again, the vein-colored smoke, and blow it up toward a ceiling you can't see where it lingers like a sweetness you can never hold, like the ghost the night will become. * * * LAST WORDS for Al His voice, toward the end, was a soft coal breaking open in the little stove of his heart. One day he just let go and the birds stopped singing. Then the other deaths came on, as if by permission-- beloved teacher, cousin, a lover slipped from my life the way a rope slithers from your grip, the ocean folding over it, your fingers stripped of flesh. A deck of cards worn smooth at a kitchen table, the jack of spades laid down at last, his face thumbed to threads. An ashtray full of pebbles on the window ledge, wave-beaten, gathered at day's end from a beach your mind has never left, then a starling climbs the pine outside-- the cat's black paw, the past shattered, the stones rolled to their forever-hidden places. Even the poets I had taken to my soul: Levis, Matthews, Levertov-- the books of poetry, lost or stolen, left on airport benches, shabby trade paperbacks of my childhood, the box misplaced, the one suitcase that mattered crushed to nothing in the belly of a train. I took a rubbing of the carved wings and lilies from a headstone outside Philadelphia, frosted gin bottles stationed like soldiers on her grave: The Best Blues Singer in the World Will Never Stop Singing. How many losses does it take to stop a heart, to lay waste to the vocabularies of desire? Each one came rushing through the rooms he left. Mouths open. Last words flown up into the trees. * * * BOOKS You're standing on the high school steps, the double doors swung closed behind you for the last time, not the last time you'll ever be damned or praised by your peers, spoken of in whispers, but the last time you'll lock your locker, zip up your gym bag, put on your out-of-style jacket, your too-tight shoes. You're about to be done with it: the gum, the gossip, the worship of a boy in the back row, histories of wheat and war, cheat sheets, tardies, the science of water, negative numbers and compound fractions. You don't know it yet but what you'll miss is the books, heavy and fragrant and frayed, the pages greasy, almost transparent, thinned at the edges by hundreds of licked thumbs. What you'll remember is the dumb joy of stumbling across a passage so perfect it drums in your head, drowns out the teacher and the lunch bell's ring. You've stolen A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from the library. Lingering on the steps, you dig into your bag to touch its heat: stolen goods, willfully taken, in full knowledge of right and wrong. You call yourself a thief. There are worse things, you think, fingering the cover, tracing the embossed letters like someone blind. This is all you need as you take your first step toward the street, joining characters whose lives might unfold at your touch. You follow them into the blur of the world. Into whoever you're going to be. * * * DEATH COMES TO ME AGAIN, A GIRL Death comes to me again, a girl in a cotton slip. Barefoot, giggling. It's not so terrible, she tells me, not like you think: all darkness and silence. There are wind chimes and the scent of lemons. Some days it rains. But more often the air is dry and sweet. We sit beneath the staircase built from hair and bone and listen to the voices of the living. I like it, she says, shaking the dust from her hair. Especially when they fight, and when they sing. * * * RAY AT 14 Bless this boy, born with the strong face of my older brother, the one I loved most, who jumped with me from the roof of the playhouse, my hand in his hand. On Friday nights we watched Twilight Zone and he let me hold the bowl of popcorn, a blanket draped over our shoulders, saying, Don't be afraid. I was never afraid when I was with my big brother who let me touch the baseball-size muscles living in his arms, who carried me on his back through the lonely neighborhood, held tight to the fender of my bike until I made him let go. The year he was fourteen he looked just like Ray, and when he died at twenty-two on a roadside in Germany I thought he was gone forever. But Ray runs into the kitchen: dirty T-shirt, torn jeans, pushes back his sleeve. He says, Feel my muscle, and I do. Copyright © 2000 Dorianne Laux. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Smoke
Smokep. 13
Last Wordsp. 15
Booksp. 17
Death Comes to Me Again, a Girlp. 19
Ray at 14p. 20
Abschied Symphonyp. 21
Stairway to Heavenp. 23
Even Musicp. 24
Trying to Raise the Deadp. 25
The Wordp. 27
How It Will Happen, Whenp. 28
The Linep. 29
Windowp. 30
Wingp. 31
Prayerp. 32
Fire
Heartp. 37
Olympiap. 39
The Shipfitter's Wifep. 41
Firestarterp. 42
The Studentp. 43
Pearlp. 45
Figuresp. 47
Fearp. 48
Family Storiesp. 50
Twilightp. 51
Icelandp. 53
Reetika Arranges My Closetp. 55
Oh, the Waterp. 57
The Gardenerp. 59
Neon Horsesp. 61
The Orgasms of Organismsp. 63
Life Is Beautifulp. 64
Notesp. 66
Acknowledgmentsp. 67
About the Authorp. 69
Colophonp. 72
Smoke
Smokep. 13
Last Wordsp. 15
Booksp. 17
Death Comes to Me Again, a Girlp. 19
Ray at 14p. 20
Abschied Symphonyp. 21
Stairway to Heavenp. 23
Even Musicp. 24
Trying to Raise the Deadp. 25
The Wordp. 27
How It Will Happen, Whenp. 28
The Linep. 29
Windowp. 30
Wingp. 31
Prayerp. 32
Fire
Heartp. 37
Olympiap. 39
The Shipfitter's Wifep. 41
Firestarterp. 42
The Studentp. 43
Pearlp. 45
Figuresp. 47
Fearp. 48
Family Storiesp. 50
Twilightp. 51
Icelandp. 53
Reetika Arranges My Closetp. 55
Oh, the Waterp. 57
The Gardenerp. 59
Neon Horsesp. 61
The Orgasms of Organismsp. 63
Life Is Beautifulp. 64
Notesp. 66
Acknowledgmentsp. 67
About the Authorp. 69
Colophonp. 72

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