Lamp of the Body

"Lamp of the Body" book cover

Published February 1, 2005

Winner of the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award

“Here in Maggie Smith’s first book we encounter a voice that is spare, confident, and precise. Her images click into place, and the movement of each poem is deft, muscular, taut. These are poems we trust, poems that ask hard questions while at the same time convincing us of the magic in the world. Smith’s voice is reserved, yet she carries her world forward in her teeth, so to speak. There’s wisdom and acceptance in many of the poems, coupled with a willingness to utter what she does not understand, a recognition ‘that worse happens to better than I.’ She embraces the mystery. There’s a kinship with the Ohio landscape, but also the recognition that ‘darkness ploughs its furrows here.’ These are poems that do not flinch in the face of grief while at the same time they do not give into formulas that either comfort or accuse. I admire the courage and the control, the gorgeous turns, the leaps she takes in the poems while keeping the center of each poem intact. These are poems that do not wobble; the voice is confident and secure, the authority claimed, and the darkness met head on–‘mealy, and bitter’ but as she writes in ‘The Poem Speaks to Danger’: ‘I am the mouth/that can hold more . . . the globe // of some new, ready fruit.’ This is a book that delights, intrigues, and instructs. A wonderful debut.”
— Carol Potter

 Raves & Reviews

“In Lamp of the Body, Maggie Smith illuminates nothing less than the opportunities for and the possibilities of poetic utterance. Her themes—landscape, loss, and western myth—are richly classic; her language, sensuous and elegant. Primitive and visionary, exacting and unrestrained, these poems are in possession of a good strangeness, an awful nostalgia that irrevocably transforms the now.”
— Kathy Fagan

“These spare, deft lyrics excavate a lost world and recuperate that world with unremitting clarity. In ‘The Poem Speaks to Memory,’ Smith addresses ‘the bald light bulb/swinging over the past’ and declares ‘No one/rows to the island of his // childhood without rowing / through you.’ From Bible stories, dreams, myths, and family album, Smith’s characters emerge: ‘Hear No Evil is still // a schoolgirl, her neat bangs cut / straight across. Speak No Evil/ is alive, her cigarette burning // down in the ashtray.’ A sharp metaphysician, Smith’s narrator also addresses abstractions such as ‘Doubt’ and ‘Progress’—and astonishes with her cunning use of personification. I admire Smith’s handling of anaphora and syntactical repetition, her shapely stanzas, her beautifully configured line turns. When the speaker asks, ‘What was I made of?’ (‘In the Beginning’) readers will appreciate, poem after poem, Smith’s piercing reply.”
— Robin Becker

“Vivid and surprising language? Check. Sly yet taut rhythm? Check. Serious engagement with serious issues? Check. Maggie Smith’s poems have the traits we look for in a good poet. But for Smith those virtues are where she begins, not where she ends. Smith’s intelligence shines in every word, every rhythmic pulse, every engagement of this masterly first book. In ‘The Poem Speaks to Desperation,’ Smith offers a compelling ars poetica: ‘I inhabit you, a nest of bees / in your mouth. You cannot / swallow without waking them…. / I have the last word. / On the tip of a tongue, / suddenly, I am what swarms.’ It’s a big claim. The poems live up to it. Check.”
— Andrew Hudgins

“Maggie Smith’s first collection, Lamp of the Body, is informed by a lush and quiet style of imagism. Her eclectic source material is biblical, fantastic, and cinematic.”
John Cotter 


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