Bright Dead Things

I’m coming to love Ada Limón’s poems and starting to get mad when bookstores I wander into don’t have anything of hers.

This is a collection spawned from her move away from Brooklyn down to Kentucky with a boyfriend, musings on the dying of her step-mother.

The poems hop around to various locales, mentioning her parents coupling in San Francisco in their apartment above a bar in the Castro, to Oklahoma, Boston, the San Fernando Valley, the bluegrass state. Looking forward to her novel.

What We Carry

Exquisite poems from Dorianne Laux in this 1994 collection. I don’t know what to say here, there’s no point in recapping a book of poems, so I suppose I’ll offer up a rendering of one of my favorites:

Late October

Midnight. The cats under the open window,
their guttural, territorial yowls.

Crouched in the neighbor’s driveway with a broom,
I jab at them with the bristle end,

chasing their raised tails as they scramble
from bush to bush, intent on killing each other.

I shout and kick until they finally
give it up; one shimmies beneath the fence,

the other under a car. I stand in my underwear
in the trembling quiet, remembering my dream.

Something had been stolen from me, valueless
and irreplaceable. Grease and grass blades

were stuck to the bottoms of my feet.
I was shaking and sweating. I had wanted

to kill them. The moon was a white dinner plate
broken exactly in half. I saw myself as I was:

forty-one years old, standing on a slab
of cold concrete, a broom handle slipping

from my hands, my breasts bare, my hair
on end, afraid of what I might do next.

This Big Fake World: A Story in Verse

Recapping a book doesn’t quite work for a book of poetry; I need a new method. Ada Limón gives us layered poems stacked into a story, filled with snow globes and hardware stores, a troubled marriage, letters to Ronald Reagan. Her four characters are the hero, his soon-to-be-estranged wife, the woman at the hardware store he has a crush on, and his friend Lewis who writes those notes to Reagan. Each poem can be taken separately, exists in its own universe of a page. But they press together to tell the story of a lonely man whose wife leaves him and he eventually finds happiness at the hardware store. Limón chooses epigraphs from Hamlet (“What a piece of work is man?”), Letters to Wendy’s, and song lyrics. All of the poems sparkle, but if I had to pick a favorite part it’d be the end of The Hardware Lady Repeats Herself where she asks a customer Will that be all? “and the woman nods, but seems not to have heard hear, so again, Will that be all? Then nothing, as if together, they had already answered this question one thousand times and finally that had been enough.”

Seven Notebooks: Poems

Interesting concept—McGrath supposedly kept seven distinct notebooks during this time, each seems to have a theme (e.g. Hurricane, Luxury, Dawn), he went through a haiku stage plus liberal quotes from other male poets, his obsession with Whitman and Neruda, his interactions with the world at large and his family on a smaller scale, observations from his son Jackson (Sam seems more distant, older?) and wife Elizabeth. Preferred the work where he circles around the same theme (like in the Bob Hope poem, circling capitalism and snowstorms) instead of the meandering loose tongued snippets from his life.

I think what I hate about this approach is that it makes it seem as if McGrath simply oozed into 7 different notebooks and clapped them shut and sent them off to the publisher, as if there were no editing involved. Words don’t fall perfectly from our brains onto the page.