Reviews: Camille Dungy’s Smith Blue

Are loss and love just interchangeable parts without our poetic landscape? If one glances over the back cover quotes of Camille Dungy’s newest collection Smith Blue, they will find opposite sides of the same coin. While Ed Roberson declaratively states “These are large, open-hearted lyrics about love: its pleasure, its neglect, loss and remembrance,” Michael Waters declares that “Loss inhabits these poems.” Dungy’s powerful resonance leaves the reader with a pondering contemplation.

Therefore, it can’t be a surprise that the collection’s first poem is titled “After Opening the New York Times I Wonder How to Write a Poem about Love.” Of course if a poet sits down to write a love poem, it will invariably become artificial. Like any poetic subject, mimetic love must come from the organic surprise of the pen’s fluidity. In the end, what is Dungy left with? The surprise of “Shame fit[ting] comfortably / as my best skirt” (lines 8 – 9). While it’s an early example, the effectiveness of her simile is exemplified through the line break. Indeed, the more one reads Dungy’s work, the more one begins to appreciate the precise nature of her line breaks. They are never chosen lightly as it reflects back onto the content. Finally, with the last two lines of “This was meant to be / about love. Now there is nothing left but this,” the reader moves forward into what remains (11 – 12). You simply cannot confine Smith Blue into a box of by categorization because it breaks through into unexplored terrain.

In the unexplored poetic terrain there is an intrinsic beauty to variety. Dungy moves from the epic grandeur of “Prayer for P—” spanning eight pages to the memorable prose poem “On the rocks” and the one-stanza compactness of “The Way We Carry On.”

It’s truly admirable and refreshing for a poet comfortable enough to glide between multiple forms depending on the subject, employing white space, quotes, and multi-sectional poems for example all for striking significance. The two must mirror each other if a poem is going to be effective and Dungy intimately understands this quality. Ultimately, Smith Blue is the product of a finely-tuned poet working at the top of her craft. Her confidence in language underpins every line. If a reader is willing to come along for the ride, it will certainly be one worthwhile.

-Keith Gaboury

Dungy, Camille. Smith Blue. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2011. Print.

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