“bowls of teeth, bellies full of flies”

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These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.

9 of 100: The Second O of Sorrow by Sean Thomas Dougherty (2019, BOA Editions)

Quick, personal thoughts:

  • In my own poetry, I take a collage-like approach, and most often when I leap from one thing to another it’s based on imagery. These poems have a lot to teach in that regard; Dougherty moves skillfully between precise physical details/sensory descriptions and deep meaning.
  • As a huge fan of the prose poem, I found a lot in this collection to admire. The prose poems in The Second O of Sorrow both contain narratives within their margins and fail to contain them, which I mean as a compliment. The sentences and fragments in this book’s prose poems take us on wild rides and cover incredible distances. That’s a terrible description, but I think the poem “Toledo, Ohio 1977” (which I’ll link here instead of below) can show you what I mean. It travels from Ohio to outerspace in just over a page. It starts with fried chicken, sweet potato pie and Blatz beer and ends with a description of Franny who “told us of the places she would go, one day far away as Paris or Marrakesh, or the tenth moon of Jupiter. She smoked her unfiltered cigarettes and stared off at the horizon as the tornado sirens blared. She blew smoke in our faces, tugged on the straps to her halter top. She was doing the math. She already knew the metric system for starlight. The calculus for getting out — ” (Also, damn it if I’m not Franny, if all of us aren’t Franny. Or were Franny at one point in our lives. Hell, I’m still Franny. I don’t think the horizon will ever lose its charm.)
  • I really like how the poems in this book move from one to another. Subtly, each poem picks up a phrase, place, image or item from the poem that precedes it.

Lines I want to remember:

  • “You want to say draw me a window so I may step into and take you to see her when you were a baby and she could run through the grass through the Balkan fields of yellow flowers and clim the mountain of the cross.”
  • “Was there joy? Who of us is ever not weary? I watch the starlings swoop and dive as if they know the air will never let them go. My daughters run and their mother rocks in her chair … and bits down hard against the pain. And I want to ask her if she ever returns to that room overlooking the bay … the lavendar was high. And a few green flies buzzed against the screen. And the scent of salt and sea roses wafted through the window we left open, lying nake on the bed … O Love, were we too not afraid?”
  • “I want to find a new name for the wind, for the smoke / curling around her eyes in some punk club / after hours high. I want to rewrite each day after it dies, / so it may keep us breathing.”
  • “At the intersection of Imagination and Death, the Kids of Chance drive past their own tombs. / High on glass. / And lyrics of astonishing levies. // … You are the long blue dress of winter. / You are the light the dead eat at morning. / I am their bowls of teeth, their bellies full of flies.”
  • “The poem does not need an award. The poem is for those who’ve lost. The words tenure and poetry should never be in the same sentence. … The words professor and poetry are at war. For the poem tells the professor, burn the classroom walls to the ground. … The poem has dropped out of high school. A poem is not a college, but a collage. A poem is not a university, but a universe.”
  • “Once Victor’s mother the nurse bandaged his hand while smacking him in the head repeatedly for being so stupid, burned by an M-80 he didn’t toss fast enough. We were always daring things to explode in our hands. Davey’s father’s thick arms mapped with scars from the glass factory. Each of his six children wore those scars. And we were all the shards of shiny things,”
  • “The rain it falls like melted wax. We are no spectacle. No document to say we lived. We are a rough & ordinary music. The DJ in the clouds turns the records of our lives. My daughter & I, arms outstretched, spin like two turntables.”

What others have said:

  • Pleiades’ Literature in Context: “The voices in Dougherty’s poems are often more tender than unsentimental, more often rhapsodic and raw than polished (think: “first thought, best thought”); as the title portends, the tone feels melancholic throughout, though occasionally humor and the comedic gush forward. Across The Second O of Sorrow, recurring themes include masculinity and fatherhood, nostalgia, marriage and divorce, death, and the odd complaint or corrective (depending on your point of view) about why and how poetry has lost its moorings.”
  • The Sunlight Press: “Sean Thomas Dougherty’s poetry collection The Second O of Sorrow (BOA Editions, 2018) is an intimate portrait of the poet’s erstwhile Ohio home, but the lens of these poems is not focused on our bucolic fields or the rejuvenating hipster neighborhoods in our cities. It is focused on what is overlooked and forgotten in this rust belt state, the towns and jobs and cultures and—more than anything—the individual human lives passed over by progress and left to scrape a living from the state’s crumbling industrial centers and decaying rural towns.”
  • Broadkill Review: “The poems are replete with rundown towns, futures, people and relationships, and yet it’s an awe-inspiring collection that shows how a skilled hand can find light in the darkest things. … There’s a sense of earned grace to the language of these poems.”

Where some of the poems from this collection live online:

Have you read this collection? If so, let mertyknow your thoughts in the comments!

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