Sunday, May 31, 2015

Our House Was On Fire - Laura Van Prooyen (The Ashland Poetry Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Our House Was On Fire.  Laura Van Prooyen.  The Ashland Poetry Press.  Ashland, Ohio.  2015.
Winner of the Robert McGovern Memorial Publication Prize - Nominated by Philip Levine

You can feel the swift current of an undertow all through Laura Van Prooyen's award winning Our House Was On Fire -- but that doesn't hinder or diminish in any way, these poems are top of the food chain regardless of what river they are swimming in.

You can feel the great weight of what John Irving called "the undertoad."  And rightly so.

There are often times when reason means nothing, dark currents beyond our strength are at play, angry gods conspire against us.

The toast gets burnt.

This Child

She woke and told me
her dream. She had been
in the kitchen gathering
knives, She
was planning to cut
and eat me. This, she
said, is what bad people do.
Now, how do I begin
to worry about
this? My little tenderloin
snuggles my hip in the easy
chair. I stroke her
hair while she kisses
my arm. We keep
telling the other, I love you
and I love you, and we do,
though we both know
where the knives are.


Van Prooyen is an explosive delight to read.  These poems are full of unexpected crossroad type moments.

Van Prooyen isn't cavalier because she has ice-water in her veins and a hard diamond where her heart should be.  In another day and age she'd be the moll who was smarter than the mobster.  Harder too.


It can be like this. One day
to wake up thinking goldenrod. Coneflower.
Not as suggestions, but directives,
so that I load the children in the car
and go. And it can be

that I hold a trowel
in my hand, thighs scuffed
with dirt and manure, my face
likewise streaked, when I see,
for the first time in years,
someone I once loved.

It is then I wonder
what would have happened
if I rose from bed thinking: tiger
or lily. Or if
I had stayed
that one night long ago.

But I'm here.
And for a moment, I follow
that staircase again, open the old
apartment door. Stand in the bedroom
on that familiar, uneven floor

with a trowel in my hand, a hole at my feet,
and my daughter, eyes bright like daisies,
asking what I saw.


Never have I said less about more.  But it is sometimes hard to qualify exactly what it is that gets under your skin about a book of poems.  Under your skin in a good way.

Laura Van Prooyen's Our House Was On Fire is riveting.

Today's book of poetry admires honesty, of course.  We all do, at some level or another.  But it strikes me that Laura Van Prooyen may be capable of a little more honesty than the rest of us.

I'm pretty certain it comes at a cost.  It is a tough path to navigate the world without the buffer of suspended disbelief.

Today's book of poetry marveled at the endless stream of small moments Van Prooyen stole from my life and found fit to put in her poetry.  I am equally sure she has a few from your life in here as well.


You loosen my hair, and my head buzzes
like a wall of TVs. I don't know

what I'm thinking. I want
a thrill. I want a tangerine.

Our old cat is forever mewing,
and upstairs a trumpet and flute duet.

Did you happen to see your daughter's
latest drawing? My head is cracked egg.

But now, you dip me in the kitchen.
Your thigh pressed to my thigh

makes me think of chicken,
and how boys laugh

when they say, breast. You hold me
and you kiss mine, so that

however much by day I forget your body,
I find my way back.


These are some sharp poems.  No one is getting through this collection without nicking themselves and leaving a little blood.

Laura Van Prooyen is a smiling assassin poet, a real killer when she needs to be.

Laura Van Prooyen

Laura Van Prooyen is the author of an earlier collection of poems, Inkblot and Altar, and her poetry has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of grants from The American Association of University Women and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

“Van Prooyen’s 58 poems remind me of a long, restless insomnia—interrupted by dreamscapes, memories, fantasies, and touching portraits of an unnamed husband and their young daughters—punctuated by startling images and fascinating observations. Their house is not burning except in imagination; there are allusions to a child’s serious illness and others about youthful vitality; saying no, perhaps meaning yes. These are not domestic texts, but rather a journal of mysterious variations.”
     --Roberto Bonazzi, San Antonio Express-News (February 15, 2015)

"I think yes. I say no," Laura Van Prooyen declares in this book of assertions and questions where danger lives at every turn--a child threatened by disease, a love passing through uncertainty, all the what ifs and keep at it of our days on the planet. Like music, these meticulously paced poems play over and over unto dark trance their observation and grief, again and again the natural world furious and spare until all seems to stand still. "Understand, the plot doesn't matter," this highly lyric poet insists because her staring stops time. "I felt bad for looking," she tells us. "Still, I looked."
     --Marianne Boruch

"Our House Was on Fire is an arresting, beautiful, and deeply satisfying book of longing, yet longing for what can never be known. And that gives this collection its powerful complexity: what is wanted or contemplated is tempting, but impossible. True desire recognizes what one might lose and also what one must give. Much is given in this book, much of the poet’s mind and honest heart. Van Prooyen’s poems offer a celebration, a carefully laid out feast."
    -- Maurice Manning

Laura Van Prooyen
rreads: Eighth Stage of Love
video:  Arts Education TV


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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