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BOA Classics: Smoke

Here's another BOA blast from the not-so-past! In case you're just jumping on board now, starting this fall BOA will be featuring previously published titles on the blog. At the beginning of every month we'll feature a new title that BOA has published in the past, and offer you the opportunity to take a look at where BOA's been in addition to where we are now and where we're going. The BOA Classic for this month is Dorianne Laux's collection of poetry, Smoke, originally published in 2000. It is a gripping collection of life, love, and loss. Each poem in turn moves the collection through understanding life in death, life in transition, and life in beauty. The poems each glow with vibrant imagery and vivid texture. Laux is contemplative, genuine, and honest. She and her narrator welcome the reader in to experience the mind, heart, and soul of another. Dorianne Laux was born in Augusta, Maine. She began writing seriously after moving to Berkley, California, and received her BA in English from Mills College. Some of her other collections published by BOA include What We Carry, a finalist for the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award, and Awake, her first book of poetry, for which she was nominated for the San Francisco Bay Area Book Critics Award for Poetry. She won a Pushcart Prize for Poetry, two Fellowships for the National Endowment for the Arts, two Best American Poetry Prizes, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of Oregon. "The world of Laux's poetry is rich and varied with growth and decay, with grief and wit, with sex and prayer and fantasy, with those elements, tangible and ephemeral, that compose human experience. The language of the poems in Smoke flows with a finely structured music. The voice is sincere, close to conversation as it explores the power and beauty of the life force in cities, gardens, graveyards, and garbage dumps, in friends, lovers, and strangers, in the past and present. In 'Life Beautiful,' Laux concludes, 'Such abundance. We are gorged, engorging, and gorgeous.'" -- Pattiann Rogers "Smoke" "Who would want to give it up, the coal a cat's eye in the dark room, no one there but you and your smoke, the window of living things. Alone, you are almost safe, smoke slipping out between the sill and the glass, sucked into the night you don't dare enter, its eyes drunk and swimming with stars. Somewhere a Dumpster is ratcheted open by the claws of a black machine. All down the block something inside you opens and shuts. Sinister screech, pneumatic wheeze, trash slams into the chute: leftovers, empties. You don't flip on the TV or the radio, they might muffle the sound of car engines backfiring, and in the silence between, streetlights twitching from green to red, scoff of footsteps, the rasp of breath, your own, growing lighter and lighter as you inhale. There's no music for this scarf of smoke wrapped around your shoulders, its fingers crawling the pale stem of your neck, no song light enough, liquid enough, that climbs high enough before it thins and disappears. Death's shovel scrapes the sidewalk, critches across man-made cracks, slides on grease into rain-filled gutters, digs its beveled nose among the ravaged leaves. You can hear him weaving his way down the street, sloshed on the last breath he swirled past his teeth before swallowing: breath of the cat kicked to the curb, a woman's sharp gasp, lung-filled wail of the shaken child. You can't put it out, can't stamp out the light and let the night enter you, let it burrow through your infinite passages. So you listen and listen and smoke and give thanks, suck deep with the grace of the living, blowing halos and nooses and zeros and rings, the blue chains linking around your head. Then you pull it in again, the vein-colored smoke, and blow it up toward a ceiling you can't see where it lingers like a sweetness you can never hold, like the ghost the night will become. Smoke is available for purchase here.


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