Tuesday, January 3, 2012
The Naming of Strays by Erin Elizabeth Smith
There’s no forgiveness
in empty bottles, the silent
teeth of blackouts on bourbon
and cheap shiraz…
Gold Wake Press, 2011. Sound like your New Year’s Eve? 2012 has started off on a sassy note with Erin Elizabeth Smith’s The Naming of Strays—a collection that drawls and howls in a voice that’s unapologetic yet unmistakably real.
The texture of this book is cool in two ways. One, the front cover literally has kind of a velvety feel, which is always a plus. Two, throughout the four sections, which are divided into the Oxford definitions of the noun and verb “stray,” we are forced to see and feel and taste the worlds of the wanderer, deviator, roamer, animal.
To put it bluntly, these poems aren’t afraid to “go there.” Whereas another poet may bask in the cheery refuge of a home-cooked meal, Smith describes a “Still Life with Cook after One-Night Stand” as: “An uncooked bird needs/ brining, its pale rubber body/ sink-warm. There are cranberries/ to bleed. Lettuce to crack and clean.” The very next poem is titled “Driving Next to Two Men I’ve Slept With.” Yeah, we cringe, it’s awkward, we want to look away, but she refuses to with lines like: “In the bayou, the trees/ don’t speak, but deal in secrets/ and human combustion” and “We are three in this car but were once two-/ and two again. We try to believe nothing/ before this highway existed, these bodies that sheen/ like blades.” And again, the next poem, “Lovebugs” (for anyone who’s lived south of I-10, you know what these are), Smith exposes the creepiness and uncertainty of instinctual lust with: “They bang/ into banisters”… “love turned/ beast and blood in the streets.”
Building in verve and momentum, The Naming of Strays demands to be heard and remembered. You won’t regret taking it in. Happy 2012 y’all, and Read this Awesome Book!
Posted by Anne Barngrover at 4:52 PM