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Dorothea Lasky's poems inspire 'Awe'

Dorothea Lasky's poems are rich in honesty and expression.

By Melanie Hubbard, Special to the Times
Published March 9, 2008


By Dorothea Lasky
Wave Books, 73 pages, $14


I can tell you about this book of poems, but I can't explain it. How, exactly, does Dorothea Lasky get away with the bravura naivete and sweet abandon of so many of her declarations of love, of despair, of friendship?

It's like opera: You want to believe it's possible to feel like that, in public. Lasky's poems come in shiny candy colors, like nail polish, but they are the opposite of unsophisticated. She is young, but her voice is ancient, the pure lyric yawp.

The lines are often straightforward, but when they add up, they don't quite follow, as if a person were speaking English as a second language: "Students . . . when you see a man six feet tall / You can call him a fathom." We wind up in dreamlike, surreal situations that suddenly, inevitably take on real-world complications.

The poems are characterized by emotional truth and hard-won wisdom, but such words to live by are not the "message" of the poems. The speaker who says "a self-ordered honesty / Was what to strive for" can just as easily say, "Whatever you paid for that sweater, it was worth it." The sincerity of the search for spiritual truth - the something between Awe and God that might be love - seems to be the point.

Fantasy characters, interlocutors, odd settings and childish thinking allow the speaker to say extraordinary things. Who wouldn't be interested in a poem (The Chinese Restaurant) which begins, "They had both gotten the same letter the other day. / One with gold writing from the 14th century." While there is generally a sort of closure by the end of a poem, one would do well to remember that "in not understanding, I catch the bird."

Walt Whitman, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, Andre Breton and fairy tales shimmer in the background while the speaker, clear-eyed, observes of a wolf we all know: "O the red room of his mouth / That I am sleeping so soundly in." Lasky beckons to us, in a voice bigger than her own, "Follow me, I know everything."

Melanie Hubbard's first poetry collection, "Gilbi Winco Swags," was recently published by Cannibal Books.



[Last modified March 5, 2008, 19:11:24]

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