Friday, August 8, 2008

Poets du Jour: Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar

Since meeting Dorianne and Joe, I've been spending some time with their new books. I had already read Dorianne's Facts About the Moon; I enjoyed the collection even more the second time through.

Here's one of my favorite poems from the collection.


We buried the hummingbird
in his mantle of light, buried
him deep in the loam, one eye
staring into the earth's fiery
core, the other up through
the door in the sky. His needle
beak pointed east, his curled
feet west, and we each touched
our fingertips to his breast
before lifting them up from
the darkness to kiss. And
from our blessed fists we
rained the powdery dirt
down, erasing the folded
wings, the dream-colored
head, tamping the torn grass
with the heels of our hands,
our bare feet, summer almost
over, swaying together on the great
ship of death as clouds sailed by,
blowing our hair and the wind
walked us back to our room.

I like the simple beauty of this small scene about a small creature. There's a quiet elegance to the diction. Not fancy words but well-chosen ones, words that subtly appeal to the ear. Notice, for example, the rhymes / near rhymes with east, west, darkness, kiss, breast, blessed, and fists. And core, door, torn. Lots of consonance and assonance throughout. I admire this poet's music. She pierces the heart through the ear.

Another poem I really admire is the title poem. This one is available online as an audio. Check it out and listen to Laux read Facts About the Moon.

I also found a terrific collection of audios by Dorianne at the Kelly Writers House site. Eleven more poems including one of my absolute favorites, "Pearl," about Janis Joplin. To hear Dorianne read some of her poems.

Then I moved onto Joe's new book, Fortune. This was my first acquaintance with Joe's work. It's terrific. No wonder he's just won a Pushcart Prize!

Here's one of my favorites:


The toilet was ancient and wouldn’t stop
running even after the stained tank filled,
its metal valves and rusty ball float

oxidized to an undersea green. The new
bowl was elongated, svelte, eighty-five
pounds of gleaming porcelain muscled

up the narrow back stairs, three separate gouges
in the bathroom wall where I’d suggested,
scattering unguents and salves,

soaps made from oatmeal and apricot,
stoppered rose water, bits of beach glass,
hairpins, aloe vera and blueing.

One enters this kingdom like a guest
careful to remain in one’s own scant preserve,
razor, toothbrush and ragged towel kept apart

from these occult potions, the jar of chalky
pink fluid for the bowels, foot plasters, corn
and bunion removers, gels and lotions, aspirin bottles,

stockings draped casually over the showerhead like
dark mesh for straining opium, lavender powders,
shark oil suppositories wrapped in crinkly foil.

What hubris to imagine a smooth installation.
I managed to donkey the new commode
straight down onto its wax ring seal,

black sleeve wedged in the drain pipe,
its two-inch trapway one hundred percent
glazed white vitreous china, fastened

in place with solid brass bolts. And I never
felt the small collision against my heel in the
half step I’d taken, backward, to admire my labor,

knocking the tank from its resting place
so it fell over the threshold and broke
with a sound like a glacier calving

off the Siberian coast . . .
I stayed on my knees a long time after that
trying to imagine some supplication

to the gods of water and household calm
which might restore my original vision:
to be seated in silence here at last

lost in thought or meditating on the perfectibility
of man, idly perusing a seed catalogue
or “Tintern Abbey,” or the diagram

of a vagina as it appears on a box of tampons,
all the while basking in gratitude
for the roughage in last night’s salad.

Who writes a poem about a toilet? This guy does—and I'm glad he did. What a doozy of a poem! I love the catalog of personal items in this bathroom, the mixture of lovely (lavender, apricot, stoppered rose water, aloe vera) and embarrassing (vagina, tampons, Pepto Bismol, suppositories). I'm charmed by the mixture of serious and frivolous in the poem, particularly the contrast between the speaker's vision for the upgraded toilet and the nightmare of its installation, his Shakespearean hubris and his regal position on his throne. I also appreciate the underlying humor in a formal structure that is so at odds with subject matter. And how about that last line! Worthy of a crown.

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  2. Hi Diane,
    I thought you'd like to know that Dorianne Laux was at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, MN, a couple summers ago and she worked with Scott King, editor/publisher of Red Dragonfly Press, to create a broadside of her poem "Hummingbird." Check it out!
    Love your blog! Athena

  3. Athena--
    Good to know you're here. Thanks for the link. I just visited. Nice!


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