Friday, April 21, 2017

Duet - Dorianne Laux | Joseph Millar (Jacar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Duet.  Dorianne Laux | Joseph Millar.  Jacar Press.  Durham, North Carolina.  2016.

Books of poetry that share two authors come in a variety of forms and styles.  In Duet by Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar the poems are unattributed, written separately but presented as a unified front.  This takes some seriously elastic tolerance and trust, one poet allowing herself/himself to be represented by the words of another, to speak with your name and approval.

This duet is made up entirely of solos but the reader never knows who is playing lead.  It doesn't matter because Laux and Millar are in the same key throughout, they have found the same rhythm section, the bass is steady and the drumming is tight.  Laux and Millar riff like scat singers on a legion of our musical heroes from Bo Diddley to Cher, Dolly Parton's breasts are balladized and Elvis, the King, has his mansion/mausoleum costed for affect.

Listening to Paul Simon

Such a brave generation.
We marched onto the streets
in our T-shirts and jeans, holding
the hand of the stranger next to us
with a trust I can't summon now,
our voices raised in song.
Our rooms were lit by candlelight,
wax dripping onto the table, then
onto the floor, leaving dusty
starbursts we'd pop off
with the edge of a butter knife
when it was time to move.
But before we packed and drove
into the middle of our lives
we watched the leaves outside
the window shift in the wind
and listened to Paul Simon,
his tindery voice, then fell back
into our solitude, leveled our eyes
on the American horizon
that promised us everything
and knew it was never true:
smoke and cinders, insubstantial
as fingerprints on glass.
It isn't easy to give up hope,
to escape a dream. We shed
our clothes and cut our hair,
our former beauty piled at our feet.
And still the music lived inside us,
whole worlds unmaking us in the dark,
so that sleeping and waking we heard
the train's distant whistle, steel
trestles shivering across the land
that was still our in our bones and hearts,
its lone headlamp searching the weedy
stockyards, the damp, gray rags of fog.


This morning our read was also a concert.  Laux and Millar write such instantly approachable and easily digestible glee that the poems powered off the lips of the readers as though they were the rock stars of their dreams.  

Because Laux and Millar were calling out the spirits of Elvis, Bo Diddley, Quicksilver, Willie Dixon, The Who, Paul Simon, Cher and Sonny too, Theolonious Monk, Julie London, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mick Jagger, Joe Williams, Mel Torme and his beautiful velvet fog, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, James Taylor, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lil Wayne and more -- Today's book of poetry gave the challenge to Milo, our head tech.  Not surprisingly he was able to fire up a dance card on the box with everyone present.  Our morning read involved much music.

Who Do You Love

This is the night after Bo Diddley died
and we sit in the cafe drinking iced tea
reading his lyrics in the newspaper
along with the story of the hairline crack
in the left front hoof of Big Brown,
another American original.
Outside the long cars prowl the dusk
trailing their ribbons of smoke,
heat lightning flickers over the street
and the waitress Arlene
brings salsa and chips.

I want to say thanks
for the cavernous voice
and the black cowboy hat,
the triangle rhinestone Fender guitar
and the scratchy beat everyone stole--
Quicksilver, Willie Dixon, The Who,
easy to shuffle to,
easy to dance to:
"walk 47 miles of barb wire
with a cobra snake for a necktie"


Laux and Millar's Duet pays all of their guests the deepest respect they can offer up on the way to immortalizing them in poem.  Of course this playlist covers a particular and time specific era that includes mostly older gray haired souls like myself, but Kathleen, our young Jr. Editor, corrected me once again when she said the word I was looking for was "timeless,"

Laux and Millar taste just a little bittersweet and caramel while lamenting Gene Vincent and others with the certain knowledge that beauty dies young while songs live forever.

Dolly's Breasts

                    are singing
from the rafters of her chest,
swaying beneath sheeny satin,
suspended in the choreography
of her bra: twin albino dolphins
breaching from her ball gown's
rhinestone cleavage.  Her breasts
are sisters praying at twilight, a pair
of fat-cheeked Baptists dreaming
of peaches, her nipples the color
of autumn, two lonely amber eyes.
When she shakes her metallic bodice,
tinsel swimming up her pink fonts
of nourishment, the spotlight hums
and shimmies with them, the audience,
open-mouthed, stunned into silence
as she crosses her legs and bows, her hair
hanging down, a permed curl caught
in that soft, improbable seam.


Laux and Millar's Duet made the day here at Today's book of poetry, they hit just the right chord.  For Today's book of poetry our only complaint was pages, we were ready for more.

Image result for dorianne laux joseph millar photo
Dorianne Laux  |  Joseph Millar

Dorianne Laux's most recent collections are The Book of Men, winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize and Facts about the Moon, winner of the Oregon Book Award. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, and Smoke from BOA Editions. She teaches poetry in the MFA Program at North Carolina State University.

Joseph Millar is the author of Kingdom, Blue Rust, Fortune, and Overtime, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches at Pacific University's Low Residency MFA Program.

Joseph Millar
International Poetry Library of San Francisco
Video: Evan Karp

Dorianne Laux
International Poetry Library of San Francisco
Video: Evan Karp



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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