The narrative poems in Dorianne Laux's fifth collection charge through the summer of love, where Vietnam casts a long shadow, and into the present day, where she compassionately paints the smoky bars, graffiti, and addiction of urban life. Laux is "continually engaging and, at her best, luminous" (San Diego Union-Tribune).
from "To Kiss Frank," make out with him a bit, this is what my friend would like to do oh these too many dead summers later, and as much as I want to stroll with her into the poet's hazy fancy all I can see is O'Hara's long gone lips fallen free of the bone, slumbering beneath the grainy soil.
DORIANNE LAUX’s most recent collection is Only As The Day Is Long: New and Selected, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is also author of The Book of Men (W.W. Norton) which won the Paterson Prize for Poetry. Her fourth book of poems, Facts about the Moon (W.W. Norton), is the recipient of the Oregon Book Award, chosen by Ai. It was also short-listed for the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for the most outstanding book of poems published in the United States and chosen by the Kansas City Star as a noteworthy book of 2005. A finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award, Laux is also author of three collections of poetry from BOA Editions, Awake (1990) introduced by Philip Levine, What We Carry (1994) and Smoke (2000). Red Dragonfly Press released The Book of Women in 2012. Co-author of The Poet's Companion, she’s the recipient of three Best American Poetry Prizes, a Pushcart Prize, two fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work has appeared in the Best of the American Poetry Review, The Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, and she’s a frequent contributor to magazines as various as Tinhouse, Orion, Oxford American and Ms. Magazine. Laux has waited tables and written poems in San Diego, Los Angeles, Berkeley, and Petaluma, California, and as far north as Juneau, Alaska. She has taught poetry at the University of Oregon and is founding faculty at Pacific University’s Low Residency MFA Program. In 2008 she and her husband, poet Joseph Millar, moved to Raleigh where she directs the program In Creative Writing at North Carolina State University. She is founding faculty for Pacific University's Low Residency MFA Program.
At the emergency room, I read The Book of Men, then hand it to my wife, who is wired to a couple of machines. She says, Oh my, these are wonderful, and I agree and think, yes, these are poems for the people of planet Earth, for those who wait tables in Juneau, Alaska in order to buy a bed, who go off to war in place of those who send them, for whom gold is the “color of mold in the broken refrigerator” rather than a smart investment, and for whom language crafted to speak truly and memorably of such things is a kind of salvation. In The Book of Men, our recognition of a drifting world brought to the hard edge of meaning is immediate and enduring and makes us grateful once again for poetry’s capacity for rescue. I read “Staff Sgt. Metz” to the nurse on duty, and he says in a whisper, For Chrissakes, who wrote that? and I say, A poet named Dorianne Laux.
The Book of Men by Dorianne Laux, could just as easily have been called The Book of Empathy, or The Book of Negative Capability, or The Book of Intimate Awareness of Who We Are and How We Got To Be This Way. Whether she is writing about men or women, the powerful or the powerless, the present day or the past, Laux observes, evokes and meditates with profound compassion and understanding for the delicate complexities of the human heart. Book of Men is a fabulous book that all men and women who turn to poetry for pleasure and knowledge will be reading with gratitude and admiration for many years to come.
The Book of Men is an utterly wonderful book, a collection of poems that only Dorianne Laux could write. She is at her very best here, each poem inhabited by a living voice, each poem artfully constructed to enter the reader like the gently pressed edge of a sharp and jagged object. One feels so many different things at once that the only response is a kind of rapture. To me, the book reads as a continuous whole, front to back, part of its supreme artistry being the musical composition of the placement and unerring modulation of the individual poems. I will not point out the particular places I wept or laughed or smiled or marveled. But I read this book and I wept and laughed and smiled and marveled.
--Frank X. Gaspar
Each poem in The Book of Men is a world we pulse in & out of, each makes us aware of a distant music we never paid attention to before, each makes us aware of our own bodies, as we hold the book, as we absorb her music, holding the stuff of the world in our hands. The poetry of Dorianne Laux is essential.
Dorianne Laux is a poet of praise and a celebrator of the erotic and of survival. In this collection Death comes to dance with the life she loves so well - our life: miraculous and mortal --and the dance is irresistible."
Dorianne Laux has always been a brave poet; her work underwritten by a grownup sense of the tragic, and drawn upwards by loving respect for the powers of sex and beauty. Now her lyrical ear is better than ever, her poems and her vision ever more impressive and distinct. She's one of the poets who is keeping alive the brave art of looking, who insists on the humanizing fact of the mortal body. The Book of Men is a songbook- ruthless, damaged, and full of fierce athletic compassion.
Mushrooms and stamens and pollinating bees, all bursting from a man’s briefs … this new collection of poetry by Dorianne Laux, The Book of Men, coming out in February 2011, is as seductive and enticing a literary treat as one has come to expect from one of America’s most delicious poets. If a treatise on boys and men, men on their own, men in the poet’s life, men observed at a distance, men in the moon, then it is also very much a collection for women and by one.
Enter Sergeant Metz, first poem, and we can smell the testosterone in the air, even if it is in a coffee shop.
Metz is alive for now, standing in line at the airport Starbucks in his camo gear and buzz cut, his beautiful new camel-colored suede boots. His hands are thick-veined. The good blood still flows through, given an extra surge when he slurps his latte, a fleck of foam caught on his bottom lip.
Yet for all those male hormones sweating the walls, this is a collection tender and kind, intimate and admiring. Laux discards sentimentality for the value of the true—I don’t believe in anything anymore:/god, country, money or love./All that matters to me now/is his life, the body so perfectly made—and while leaving behind the idealism of youth, of larger-than-life heroes, caresses the real person found in the detail. She values one life at a time, and perhaps that was all we were ever meant to do. Her poems sing the power of symbol, of myth, of legend and quest, of story. Her poems are the minutiae of every day, every man, every woman, every common thing, coming together to create the poetry of a life.
Life is a series of bumbling and random choices, many unknowingly made and without awareness, but all determining the entirety of what life we live. In “Late-Night TV,” Laux wonders about an infomercial, the man who is selling his wares to insomniacs, and surely he, too, is somebody to someone. She hits that raw and tender place we all have, our common wondering, why we do what we do, how it is that we end up where we are.
We know nothing of how it all works how we end up in one bed or another, speak one language instead of the others, what heat draws us to our life’s work or keeps us from a dream until it’s nothing but a blister we scratch in our sleep.
Yet somehow it all works. Lives are lived. Some pretty glorious ones. A miracle. And that is how Laux’s poetry works: finding the glory, the miracle, in all our common little-big lives.
Among her boys and men are young rebels, misfits, imperfect heroes (are there any other kind?), the aging, with a specially moving poem written about her elderly mother, “Mother’s Day,” and tributes to poet Phillip Levine, and the moon, too, dog howling at it. She writes, too, about the question that faces men in a woman’s moment of vulnerability, in “Second Chances,” will he help her? Or will he take advantage? In our world today, the poet says in an interview with The Smoking Poet (Winter 2010-2011 Issue), it is goodness that surprises her. There is that miracle, that there are still so many who are good and do the right thing.
In that same interview, Laux says about her art, recalling a conversation with her husband, poet Joseph Millar: “We … talk of the purpose of art and poetry, and how when we read a poem or look at a painting we are led into the true intensity of life, the one right here as we walk down the street and are struck again, as if for the first time, by the changing of the leaves from green to gold, that brief glimpse into the final hallway. Maybe the purpose of art is to help us apprehend the loud silences, the shimmering depths, the small intensities of ants going about their business, tunneling out whole cities beneath our sidewalks, and awake us to the absolute mystery that is life. Art asks us to contemplate death rather than to simply imagine it or even press ourselves up against it as we do in our youth. It’s coming, no matter how fast we run from it or toward it, and art asks us to stop and confront death rather than being merely tolerant of, tempted or titillated by it.”
In “Fall,” she laments the burden of the body, this aging vehicle in which we live, and how she tires of always hearing about it … then gives it that credit due, that we need it, and glory in it, too. Her poems about Mick Jagger and Cher, those aging icons of American culture, near perfection with their mix of hero and anti-hero, beauty and deformity, the would-be and just-ain’t, accomplish the same love this, wince at that, and that's something like how it should be.
A poet is that artist who finds the voice we all keep hoping to find, framing the question we all whisper inside, touching on that nerve where we all feel raw, embracing that fear that makes us all tremble, and upholds the courage that, in our very best moments, we all hope to find. Dorianne Laux is that kind of voice—one voice that speaks into a canyon of echoes, coming back to her out of the dark, speaking for all of us.
Dorianne Laux is the author of five collections of poetry: Facts About the Moon, What We Carry, Smoke, Awake, and The Book of Men. She has been the recipient of the Oregon Book Award and was short-listed for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Among her awards are a Pushcart Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She teaches at North Carolina State University and lives in Raleigh.
Laux is all-her-own grounded and open. There is no one better to write about hot, sweaty nights with men than Dorianne Laux.
Laux's book mainly communes with our insecurities about death. Our fear of the unknown is to startle awake under a deep swath of night after the steam of lovemaking has dissipated and the liquid remnants dimly shine in its bed. Like the cover - I noticed the tighty-whitey underwear after carrying the book around for a couple months - each poem's sound builds on itself, the new rhythms of each reading bringing out different views and commentary. It's a quirky writing style, concerned less with conventions than with a unique conversational authenticity. The words get more introspection from the reader because they don't call too much attention to themselves. Maybe Floyd Skloot's more personal stuff, the confessional work, the references to popular painters also somewhat similar to Laux's references to icons of pop culture, but Skloot's a bit more formal (in his own good way).
The books finest moment comes with "Mother's Day", which starts with the author sitting on a bed combing her mom's hair, "clipping her tough toenails" and watching her bunched-up shape:
took whole pages of words, random years torn from the calendar, the names of roses leaning over her driveway: Cadenza, Great Western, American Beauty. She can't think, can't drink her morning teas, do her crossword puzzle in ink. She's afraid of everything, the sound of the front door opening, light falling through the blinds-- pulls her legs up so the bright bars won't touch her feet. I help her with the buttons on her sweater. She looks hard at me and says the word sleeve. Exactly, I tell her and her face relaxes for the first time in days. I lie down next to her on the flowered sheets and tell her a story about the day she was born, head first into a hard world: the Great Depression, shanties, Hoovervilles, railroads and unions. I tell her about Amelia Earhart and she asks
Air? and points to the ceiling. Asks Heart? and points to her chest. Yes, I say. I sing Cole Porter songs, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? When I recite lines from Gone with the Wind she sits up and says Potatoes! and I say, Right again. I read her Sandburg, some Frost, and she closes her eyes. I say yes, yes, and tuck her in. It's summer. She's tired. No one knows where she's been.
The rhyming is wonderful, carrying the reader through the moments, and like the dialogue, doesn't stand out. It could with line breaks and quotation marks, but this wouldn't be Laux's style. Those techniques, here, would take away from the intimacy of the moment, would not let the poem stand as strong for the story it tells.
Along with "Mother's Day", "Staff Sgt. Metz", "Bakersfield, 1969", "Mick Jagger (World Tour, 2008)" and "Cher" seemed destined for collective-memory aura, for a place in our literary Northern Lights.
An alternative title for the book could be “A Book of Lists: Men”. As a medium, poems can leave too much out, leave a scene incompletely drawn. Laux covers her bases well in this regard, setting each scene fully, but sometimes rounds home and goes to first again. Also, Laux’s best work is germane to situations of her life, so there wasn’t enough in her poems about New Yorkers, or the dark patches of our psyche that we labor so much in carrying around, or what aliens would think of all of our scurrying to and fro that didn’t make me long for her more personal work. On the other hand, maybe the wide-angle societal views make the close-ups more layered and satisfying. I couldn't quite come to a conclusion on this.
I finished the book feeling like the skill of listening and noticing and taking in to have an even higher preciousness. Laux is the story not heard in the nighttime news, in the gossip about work. She's the things you realize after the TV, radio and computer have been completely turned off and the night slowly starts to settle in.
The first half of The Book of Men is exactly that, a series of poems about men of all kinds, from the itinerant to the wealthy, bohemian to the iconic suburbanite. Some are well-known, like Mick Jagger and Superman. Others, like the poet Philip Levine, aren't so famous. Some are general portraits, like the film noir detective.
More subtly, the 2d half seems to be about women, especially mothers. Mothers, breasts, children recur here. There's even a poen entitled "Mother's Day," along with others dedicated to Cher and Emily Dickinson. My favorite in the book comes from this section, a lyrical evocation of a pregnant horse rising to stand in a field. The final line directs our attention to "The strength of the mother." It's a beautiful poem in a beautiful collection.
I wrote one poem and started two others while I read this book over the course of a couple of hours. The compliment to Dorianne Laux inherent to that is this: She made me pay attention. She made me remember that every single thing has earned a poem, if someone wants to write it one. The poems in this collection are narrative in nature, and are not so much glittery as they are dusty, which I also mean as a compliment. Laux writes lived-in poems, about the past, the summer, cars, sex, the horses and glaciers that have lived outside various of her windows. This was a perfect respite from the Icelandic saga I'm also reading. It brought my gaze in close and focused it keenly. Highly, highly recommend.
for national poetry month i’m reading this book of poems by dorianne laux. these are poems about men of all kinds. something that strikes me about these them is how honest they are. this is my first introduction to dorianne laux & i will definitely read more of her work. also, i must have picked this book up at least 10x before I realized the flora on the cover is bursting from a pair of men’s undershorts. clever, that.
The Book of Men is a delightful collection of funny, whimsical, insightful, honest poems. Laux pays homage to many cultural icons, including Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and Cher. "The Beatles" starts with Laux saying she "Never really understood why The Beatles/ broke up". She talks about Superman smoking pot as he sits on a tall building. In "Learning to Drive", Laux takes an ordinary right-of-passage and turns it into something magical. The reality of seeing an aging parent try to negotiate Costco was so vivid it temporarily halted my reading.
Laux's poems dance and sway, infused with the music they reference. She takes universal experiences and turns them into something unique through her choice of metaphor and use of imagery. This is exactly what I want from poetry-to feel connected to a moment, a thought, an experience- rather than alienated by the struggle to understand.
Laux is one of my favorite poets. The narrative poems in this collection read like a reminisence of my young adulthood as she considers topics like Viet Nam, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan. But it's her treatment of the more mundane that truly rocks my poetic heart, poems like "The Treatment of Backs" and "Antilementation." The latter actually helped explained why I'm finishing a poorly written biography of Bill Clinton. "Regret nothing," writes Laux, "Not the cruel novels you read to the end just to find out who killed the cook . . . " Laux's volumne of poetry sparkles next to the biography but both offer unique perspectives on the history that I have lived and in a goofy way, "The Book of Men" shines a colorful light when reading about the life of Bill Clinton.
Dorianne Laux arrived on the poetry radar already spectacularly good, and one of the great pleasures of reading her books over the years has been seeing how she has kept her core strengths (work whose keel is powerful emotional truth, whose sails' canvas is woven of precise description, amazing metaphors, the just-right heat of word-choice) and gone on to expand them as well, into increasingly ranging subjects and explorations. Each successive book brings its own new flavors; every one of them has a place on my bookshelf. This new book's new note is the series of poems on a series of cultural icons--The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Cher, and right in there with the pop stars, Emily Dickinson. The long-standing notes of personal experience are all here too, along with a celebration of eating an apple and one of a pregnant mare standing up into "the grand totality of herself" that are Laux at her objective-ecstatic best. She sees things, she feels things--and through her, we do too.
You've walked those streets a thousand times and still you end up here. Regret none of it, not one of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing, when the lights from the carnival rides were the only stars you believed in, loving them for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved. You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake, ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house after the TV set has been pitched out the window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied of expectation. Relax. Don't bother remembering any of it. Let's stop here, under the lit sign on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.
From a modern soldier off to war and a boyfriend who taught her how to drive to Mick Jagger and Superman, Laux's fantastic collection reveals men as human and mortal. The poems are playful, sultry, sexy and also elegiac. This is a collection to be read in one sitting, although you'll stop to catch your breath on numerous occasions at Laux's plain-spoken lyricism and finely tuned attention to detail.
Dorianne Laux reveals a potent viewpoint on men in this new collection of poems. She has this remarkable ability to reveal an entire world through one moment, an entire personal history through one encounter or one detail. Her language is bare, stripped of grand literary illusions and metaphors. These poems are incredibly accessible as well and often read as miniature short stories.
Favorite poems: Roots, Gold, Homicide Detective: A Film Noir, Lighter, Learning to Drive, and Late-Night TV. So a good collection I guess. I dunno, not my favorite. Narrative poems that worked for me, though!
Connection: Laux will be teaching at the Tin House Summer Workshop when I will be working there.
I am no poetry expert, but "Antilamentation" (heard one morning on NPR Writer's Almanac) struck a chord, and I had to read more, so I bought the book in which it resides. Dorianne is very earthy and makes excellent use of metaphor. Really liked.
“Regret nothing,” begins a poem in Dorianne Laux’s The Book of Men: “Regret none of it, not one/ of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,/ when the lights from the carnival rides/ were the only stars you believed in, loving them/ for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.” These lines from “Antilamentation” feel essential to this very courageous collection of poems, which read like hymns to the intrinsic value of struggle, hard work, and literal experience.
Laux often examines these “literal things” through poems that look back on the speaker’s coming-of-age in the ‘60’s, with portrait-poems like “Cher” and “Mick Jagger” rounding out the setting. But though the poems may be nostalgic, the stories they tell are anything but glorified. Through directness of language and syntax, Laux achieves a tone of voice that expresses the grit, but also the beauty that comes with the most common, even banal experiences of that liminal space between youth and adulthood.
But the catch that Laux so beautifully identifies is how the value of our experiences doesn’t occur to us while they are happening; it only occurs after the fact— which is why the passage of time forms the thematic cornerstone of this collection. There is a remarkable moment that occurs in “Juneau”, a poem that describes the speaker’s time waiting tables on the night shift. She is walking home to an apartment she can barely afford, wearing stained clothes and second-hand gloves, when suddenly the speaker in the present remarks: “I don’t know now/why I ever left.” The line is at once both sad and satisfying, speaking to our inability to fully appreciate our lives while they’re actually happening.
These poems in The Book of Men speak to the power of description. They are effortless narratives told in an unapologetic voice and filled with frank insight. Laux claims, following the advice of her teacher, Phil Levine, that in writing poetry there are “No tricks. No magic/about it.” That may be true, but though the process may be nothing but plain work, the poems themselves are imbued with a magnetic charisma that is hard to shake.
I have been reluctant to write a review on Laux's collection of poems because I wanted to address the whole collection. But there is one that embedded itself. One that I call people to hear. One that I use as an example to people who "hate" poetry. One that I (as a writer) will forever use as a standard. It is titled Mother's Day.
Laux doesn't write poems that are obscure, poems that intimidate readers. She communicates at the highest levels. The reader not only "gets" the poem, but feels it, experiences it.
I will often write a poem and "try it out" on a few friends who dislike poetry. I explain that if it doesn't make sense, I haven't done my job. Recently, I read Mother's Day to a few of these friends. Their responses ranged from: "Oh My God", to "I want this book."
I have called most of my poet friends to read the poem to them over the phone. It is perfect. In this poem we experience a moment we have had but couldn't put in words - or a moment we know we will have at some time in our life. In so few words, we know Mother and daughter. We know their history, the way their minds work, the bond between them. We taste the mixture of sweet and sour, feel pain, joy, love and we are left reflecting on the beauty of a moment when worlds intertwine.
The entire collection is remarkable, and this is only one poem.
The Book of Men reflects "stories" from her life and relationships. She writes from experiences in a natural voice that anyone can understand. I believe one of the most natural reads for me since I started reading poetry. Her feminine viewpoint is quite insightful to the male viewpoint, understanding what most women can't about the male psyche, even experienced women. The book is not all testosterone driven though. She touches on the vietnam war, pop icons like superman, music icons like Cher and the Beatles, and her mother's dementia (a topic close to my heart with my father). Dorianne allows us to connect with her on an equal playing field as if we've been there and done that too. There is something that everyone can connect to. If you haven't you most certainly will experience some of these normal life experiences that she uniquely shares in a sometimes humorous voice. This is my first time reading poetry from Laux and the first time I didn't feel overwhelmed in trying to understand it's meaning. Does that mean it's superficial? No. It means she writes fluidly and simply but by all means is not simple. I look forward to reading some of her older books. I know, maybe I should have read them in sequence and than again regressing might be quite enjoyable. I definitely recommend this book, especially if you enjoy men! ; )
I bought this book when I saw Dorianne Laux read at my school earlier this Fall, because after hearing the poem about Super Man contemplating his cancer while smoking pot high above Metropolis, I had to get the book that contained it. Laux's poems feel so settled and complete, and read not like someone contemplating her subject matter, but like someone who has just found the perfect wording for her mind's wanderings; she gives you the words for your absent observations that float around day to day, forming the disconnected monologue in your head. I loved this book. It's beautifully accessible and has phrases that twist your mouth into a smile as the words fall out or leaves it open, waiting for the comfort she always delivers.
I believe I have found a new favorite contemporary poet in Dorianne Laux. I am sure that as I continue to adventure through poetry, I will find other "favorite poets," but Dorianne penetrated my psyche in a way that few poets do. I feel like a lot of poets feel like they have to make their poems inaccessibly to have literary validity, yet Dorianne proves this sentiment utterly false. I would argue that her poems are accessible to nearly everyone and they remain gritty, meaty, very American and an absolute pleasure to read and ponder.
This is my favorite book of Dorianne's in some time, maybe since her first book. The poem "Superman" by itself is worth the cost of admission. Dorianne Laux paints in broader strokes in this book, taking an inventory of important male figures in her life (love interests, pop culture icons, etc) and engaging in some playful critique of the cultural beliefs about men and women. The writing is more confident here and she works with a wider range of tones and voices than in her last book. Buy it!
I love Dorianne's work, but this book is not her best. I liked it, but it felt a little too tidy. It doesn't have the heart that her other books have. I'm sorry to have to say this because she's a real favorite of mine. This doesn't mean that I think you shouldn't read the book. There's some wonderful stuff here. For me, it's my least favorite of all her work, and I have all of it!
This collection of poems is one of my favorite poetry collections that I've ever read. The pain, beauty, and multifaceted look at life always fills me with joy. These are poems that feel effortless to read, like the words in my head have just been rearranged on the page and presented back to me. Laux is a true master of her craft.