If you didn’t have a chance to see Laura Read during Get Lit!, there are other ways to experience her wonderful poetry. She’s published in Poet Lore, The Spook River Poetry Review, The New Ohio Review, and Prank. As the winner of the 2010 Floating Bridge Press Poetry Chapbook Award, she also has a brand new book out called The Chewbacca on Hollywood Boulevard Reminds Me of You.
I know Laura as one of the advisors for Spokane Falls Community College creative arts magazine Wire Harp, and as cohost of Spokane’s Beacon Hill Reading Series. Even if I wasn’t familiar with her name though, the title of her book would make me want to read her work.
I’m a poetry reader newbie, but have been reaching for that shorter prose form lately because of how it influences my own writing. Sometimes when I read longer works of fiction or non-fiction, I find that the voice or style of whatever work I’m currently perusing creeps into my own writing. Poetry doesn’t have the same effect, but what does happen is that I pay a lot more attention to my own line-level stuff. Poets spend much time choosing each word on a line and balancing it perfectly against what came before and after it. Reading their carefully crafted cadence of words automatically makes me write my own sentences with more care.
What I like most about Read’s work is that in her beautiful balance of words, there is something whimsical that attracts me to the page, but underneath that deceptive lightness I find a weight of meaning and sometimes a dark twist. The poem Paper Clothes is an example of this:
There are so many words for clothing:
le pantalon, la jupe, des chaussures
laid out on the pages, flat like the paper
clothes you fold onto the collarbones
of dolls, false like the dickey sewn
into the navy blue jacket I wore
when I interviewed for this job.
I asked for a glass of water, the waxed
cup shook, the principal stared at me
until I thought the dickey had come
loose, he could see my breasts.
There’s not enough fabric,
and my arms are hot, they want me
to take everything off, le manteau,
la robe, and you, your soft stomach
exhaling in my hand when the stars
shine in the windows.
I get dressed when it’s still dark out,
pull on une chemise, sleeves cut from the sky.
They’re pink-flowered like my arms
beneath their thin cover, white spots
of hydrocortisone over the eczema.
When I’m at the board asking
How do you say scarf, skirt, I feel them,
flush with knowing.
And as an added bonus, here’s the title poem from her book:
The Chewbacca on Hollywood Boulevard Reminds Me of You
It’s hot so I sit and watch him
for a while. Every night he must hang up
his costume more matted, molecules
of sweat caught in its coarse lining.
That’s the kind of job you used to go out
looking for, your only tie cinched
around your neck. You had to walk
all day like the superheroes
because you didn’t have enough money
for the bus by the time you knew
you had to get sober again or
I wouldn’t keep washing your pants,
emptying your pockets of lint
and lighters. All day Chewbacca poses
with the tourists, grins as if admitting
he’s not the real Chewie.
But he looks so hot inside the fur coat
of his body, so maybe you’d rather be
Spider-man in his skin of blue
and red nylon. He gets to slither up
the stoplight, hang upside down
as the camera flashes, blood
rushing to his face behind the web
of his mask. And then you could be quiet,
though I’m sure you could imitate Chewie—
when you open your mouth, out comes
the choir of dolphins and lions.
Seriously, if you haven’t read Read, you really should.