Lamp of the Body

Red Hen Press, 2005
Winner of the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award

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“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

“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….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….This is a book that delights, intrigues, and instructs. A wonderful debut.”
—Carol Potter