Sunday, August 26, 2012


My "reviews" are merely my impressions of the books I've read, and could never be construed as comprehensive analyses in any way.  If that is the sort of thing you need, there are many wonderful Book Blogs out there covering just about every type of book.

That being said . . .

I came across this book while putting together last month's What Does a Poet Laureate Do? post on Rita Dove. I ordered it immediately and it was definitely a good move on my part. (Eating regularly is overrated, I say.)

The 'Smooth' of the book's title is an apt description of the poetry it contains. It is a celebration of music and dance in poetry, and it pulls together many disparate pieces of cultural heritage to create the underlying melody.

I enjoyed the entire book, which I must admit, is rare for me. Some of the pieces stopped me cold and touched me deeply. Others made me smile.

How about a few samples:

A different perspective on a very familiar story.

I have been a stranger in a strange land

Life's spell is so exquisite, everything conspires to break it.
- Emily Dickinson

It wasn't bliss. What was bliss   
but the ordinary life? She'd spend hours   
in patter, moving through whole days   
touching, sniffing, tasting . . . exquisite   
housekeeping in a charmed world.   
And yet there was always   

more of the same, all that happiness,   
the aimless Being There.   
So she wandered for a while, bush to arbor,   
lingered to look through a pond's restive mirror.   
He was off cataloging the universe, probably,   
pretending he could organize   
what was clearly someone else's chaos.   

That's when she found the tree,   
the dark, crabbed branches   
bearing up such speechless bounty,   
she knew without being told   
this was forbidden. It wasn't   
a question of ownership—   
who could lay claim to   
such maddening perfection?   

And there was no voice in her head,   
no whispered intelligence lurking   
in the leaves—just an ache that grew   
until she knew she'd already lost everything   
except desire, the red heft of it   
warming her outstretched palm.

Perhaps real happiness and contentment are in the ordinary, everyday, and introspective, 
rather than the grand and public as society would have us believe.

Cozy Apologia

- For Fred

I could pick anything and think of you—   
This lamp, the wind-still rain, the glossy blue   
My pen exudes, drying matte, upon the page.   
I could choose any hero, any cause or age   
And, sure as shooting arrows to the heart,   
Astride a dappled mare, legs braced as far apart   
As standing in silver stirrups will allow—   
There you'll be, with furrowed brow   
And chain mail glinting, to set me free:   
One eye smiling, the other firm upon the enemy.   

This post-postmodern age is all business: compact disks   
And faxes, a do-it-now-and-take-no-risks   
Event. Today a hurricane is nudging up the coast,   
Oddly male: Big Bad Floyd, who brings a host   
Of daydreams: awkward reminiscences   
Of teenage crushes on worthless boys   
Whose only talent was to kiss you senseless.   
They all had sissy names—Marcel, Percy, Dewey;   
Were thin as licorice and as chewy,   
Sweet with a dark and hollow center. Floyd's   

Cussing up a storm. You're bunkered in your   
Aerie, I'm perched in mine   
(Twin desks, computers, hardwood floors):   
We're content, but fall short of the Divine.   
Still, it's embarrassing, this happiness—   
Who's satisfied simply with what's good for us,   
When has the ordinary ever been news?   
And yet, because nothing else will do   
To keep me from melancholy (call it blues),   
I fill this stolen time with you.

Of course, when the ride is over it's time to go home.

Looking Up From the page, I Am Reminded of This Mortal Coil    

Mercurial ribbon licking the cut lip of the Blue Ridge—
                    or end, I can't tell
as long as I ignore the body's marching orders, as long as            
                                I am alive in air ...     

What good is the brain without traveling shoes?   
We put our thoughts out there on the cosmos express
       and they hurtle on, tired and frightened,       
bundled up in their worrisome
                                shawls and gloves--I'm just

guessing here, but I suspect we don't
       travel easily at all, though we keep
       making better wheels—         
smaller phones and wider webs,
                   ye olde significant glance
                                across the half-empty goblet
                                of Chardonnay....    

The blaze freshens,
        five or six miniature birds
        strike up the band.
Daybreak, of course; no more strobe and pink gels
       from the heavenly paint shop: just
house lights, play's over, time to gather your things and go home.


  1. Wow. I love that last one. I don't think I've ever loved another one of her poems that much. Even the title!

    1. I have always enjoyed her poetry, but something about this book is different. Maybe because its impetus is the dancing that she and her husband love so.

  2. Oh, i love the first poem. I think one does not have to look for happiness elsewhere but rediscover it from the inside, in the heart. Thanks for sharing these poems.

    1. Yes, indeed. And I'm glad you enjoyed them.

  3. These poems are lovely. Interestingly, what I took away from these is the mention of Hurricane Floyd in the second poem. I am also from Virginia (Rita Dove teaches at UVA) and I remember Hurricane Floyd coming up the coast. Beyond that small connection, I also love the poem. I especially love the line "Cussing up a storm." Perfection.

    1. I actually hadn't made much of the storm connection until Isaak headed for New Orleans.

  4. I'm not familiar with Rita Dove but these are absolutely beautiful and rhythmic and touching. I especially love this:

    And yet, because nothing else will do
    To keep me from melancholy (call it blues),
    I fill this stolen time with you

    1. The rhythm and images of a poem are what first draw me in, then the poet's ease with language. It all seems to flow so effortlessly from her heart.

      Ironic isn't it? The best poets work so hard to make it sound like the words just came out that way.