as two or three, not a hundred or a thousand…

I could easily have used the more familiar beginning of Thoreau’s quote – “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” – but going a little deeper into the quote seemed appropriate as I have been reading Dorothea Lasky’s Thunderbird. There is much to enjoy in the book, but I especially admire the simplicity of the language and its ability, through context and repetition, to say as much (or much more) than other poems that employ more lengthy and sophisticated diction. Thus the quote – two or three repeated words in these poems pack the punch of hundreds in other recent poems I’ve read. They serve as a reminder to me that poetry is not always about complexity of language, that sometimes it is about the emotion that the simplest of words can evoke.

Some of my favorite examples:

from “The changing of the seasons is life and death seen gently”:

“The seasons they happen gently/They happen gently/Softly/And why shouldn’t they?/Why shouldn’t they, I ask you?/They know they will come again.”

from “I want to be dead”:

“I am already words/that paint this page/Peppery black specks/Move me around/Tear up this paper/Burn this paper/Light this paper on fire/I don’t care/I am already dead/Whatever form you make of me/I will always come back to this one.”

from “What if I lost all those things”

“My body is dark red paper tonguing/The sun of the grave that I am in/Will you go tunneling through my grave/To find the setting sun/Will you go through my grave to get to another sun/One that is deep and blue/And fiery.”

That last one takes my breath away.

Many poems that I have read in journals recently are challenging to me in terms of language, syntax, and juxtaposition of image. Their surreal quality and their leaps from image to image, although interesting, are more like being on an intellectual hamster wheel, spinning my brain around but not taking me anywhere. What a delight to let the ideas and the pathways of Lansky’s words challenge my perceptions through simplicity and thoughtfulness.

If you are interested in more of Lasky’s work, Thunderbird is available from Wave Books here and you can read sample poems here and here.

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