Awe by Dorothea Lasky
So, just when I fear that Wave Books’ style and tone (a smidgeon on the homogenous side, I don’t think they’d mind admitting) is starting to feel oppressive, I read a new one of theirs that changes my mind a bit. Dorothea Lasky is a little more earnest than the rest of them, a little more Midwestern-feeling, a little less slick. Her new (and, proudly) first book is Awe. It is kind of like (for girls of the prairies, born in the late '70s) getting chapped lips at a slumber party, after an intense round of Cyndi Lauper lip-synching/dance performance moves, in the fifth grade or so. Or, maybe, it is also like chewing off the edge of your hangnail in the wintertime, and then walking home from a bar in your static-inducing hat, and then getting in the soft and dirty sheets of your bed to warm up. The poems feel just like someone you know -- glamorous only by virtue of illustrating the spiritual struggle that exists within the quotidian. And, actually, that is rather glamorous. The poems (and, really, the persona that emerges) appeal to some sort of silly, old-fashioned notion of “the heart.” Lasky says in an interview at Kickingwind.com, “I think that poetry, when coming from an authentic place, has the ability to transmit the necessary human information of the spirit -- something that is often unsaid.”
There is a sort of nodding here to the Confessional poets. Certainly, Lasky wants to make of her own existence a record; and that record presents itself as poetry. There is also a heavy sadness to most of the work, which comes off as lyric intensity.
Students, I can’t lie, I’d rather be doing something else, I guess
Like making love or writing a poem
Or drinking wine on a tropical island
With a handsome boy who wants to hold me all night.
I can’t lie that dreams are ridiculous.
And in dreaming myself upon the moon
I have made the moon my home and no one
Can ever get to me to hit me or kiss my lips.
And as my bridegroom comes and takes me away from you
You all ask me what is wrong and I say it is
That I will never win.
Lasky goes on to write poems about a one-night stand with a nameless bank teller, a painful and despairing search for the presence of “god” somewhere, the choice to be a poet despite the practical evidence against such an endeavor, low morale (in general), sadness, friendship, definitions of love, imaginary and real conceptions of mental illness. Beautiful weirdnesses like this pop up: “In your rib, a bird looks out.” The things that fuel it all are: modern (self-styled, maybe?) feminism, artistic philosophy, and straight up belief. This woman really holds on to some of her notions. Even the wavering, the examination of identity, proclaims itself as a kind of belief-system.
Friend, we are entering an apocalypse. That apocalypse is called Lack of Divine Image. This apocalypse has crushed our very general heart and is in danger of crushing our very specific one.
Later on: “Inside my heart, there is a rat who/ Eats soap and feeds her babies cakes of soap... And inside God, the world of the heart rots and blooms.” This sweet-ish nastiness of Lasky’s is, for me, a real charm. “I got a brazilian wax for my engagement/ But my old man was in a diabetic coma... his sugar level was so rich he couldn’t see./ So we slipped him under the ground/ And let the bugs eat him...” (and here’s the outrageous punch line): “Since that’s what he really wanted anyway.” Early on in the book, Lasky is gentler, and it comes off as naïveté. But I still like it. “Upon a mountain/ The angels smile sleepily as they stretch/ Their very long legs, thinking of us./ And wise they might seem, us and the angels,/ But really it is only God who is wise.”
The book’s collection of titles alone warrants a look-see: “Whatever you paid for that sweater, it was worth it,” “The mouth of the universe is screaming now in agony,” “The Lonely River,” “I will explain my scheme,” “You ain’t gonna get glory if that’s what you came here for.” She’s got a tone, down pat, that’s so free of the veil -- no secrets at all, no mystery other than the ones we share. It is, I think, a rather unexpected voice right now.
Awe by Dorothea Lasky