Award-winning poet Ann Lauinger offers gentle instruction in the art of living with mortality, served up in lush language.
This new collection from Ann Lauinger effectively has two title poems: there’s the poem “Dime Saint, Nickel Devil” in which she announces she is “fated to surrender to pure sense”; and a page later, the cover poem “Persimmons on the Ground” depicting “a world of so much ruined beauty” — “Look here / at decomposition. Speak, / if you speak, of fallen brilliance. Flesh and stars.” As if this weren’t enough for a program, her opening poem “Girl Reading the Aeneid on the Subway” throws the world of “myth and destiny” into the mix, and several of her poems bear titles of monastic prayers. Heady stuff, this. But Lauinger is up for it, and her observations and meditations — her “pondering” as she puts it — are infused with the pure sense of a fallen, sometimes tragic, but still beautiful world. The result is some of the most lush language you’ll ever be thrilled to read, like these lines from the closing poem aptly titled “Collateral Beauty”: “Here’s another thing: sunset confuses me, / luxuriant dying that spreads like spilled paint / across night’s visibly deepening design / and quickens the zenith with a frolicsome bestiary / doomed to the insatiable dark. / Yet a mere twelve hours later, in the pale / wash of morning, it’s business as usual.” A great part of the joy of this volume is how Lauinger gently instructs us in how to live in the face of mortality, to get on with the “business as usual” of life: “Our / alterations are subtractions / no raging star can possibly / restore. The stage is getting bare. / It’s time to improvise.”
“In Dime Saint, Nickel Devil, Ann Lauinger proves again to be a master of poetic tone. Her poems move acrobatically between awe, joy, amusement, regret, grief, and the refusal of grief. These poems broach big questions — about love and mortality — but often with a wry smile, signaling that it’s human to wonder at existence but folly to expect answers. I love how Lauinger’s poetry always makes me feel smarter and elevated in spirit, as the best art often does for us, and how it fulfills poetry’s original brief: to lend meaning to the rhythms and trials of our daily lives.” —Sarah Rose Nordgren, author of Darwin’s Mother
“Ann Lauinger is a virtuoso, a poet of formidable technical inventiveness, but also deep feeling, leavened by wit and self-knowledge. Her eloquence and depth of experience make metaphysics visceral—you might think of John Donne’s ‘naked thinking heart.’ Her new book Dime Saint, Nickel Devil is exploratory and wide-ranging, but there’s a consistent push-pull between immediacy and transcendence. Bees rise ‘like praise’ in a moment of catastrophe; a poem with a leap in every line break begins ‘your name is the badge of every absence, / a hole in the sun, beloved silence, // globed darkness like a lavalier. / What is it worth, the singular?’ and the expansiveness deepens. Lauinger articulates a spirituality that values questions more than answers, alert to ‘the imperatives of damaged things.’ Dime Saint, Nickel Devil is a book to treasure.” —D. Nurkse, author of A Country of Strangers: New and Selected Poems
“Through imaginative insight and dazzling verbal song, Ann Lauinger’s Dime Saint, Nickel Devil is a multi-layered, clear-eyed investigation of the human interface with the natural world. Recasting the great questions with dark wit and originality, these poems consider how the large and small, the godly and human reflect each other. From the stripper at the Drunken Cactus to the parlor wit, from the sparrow’s nest to the bride’s trousseau, from subway to suburban garden, this elegant collection of poems embodies a most beloved form of humor, the capacity to laugh at oneself. The poet writes, ‘Our / alterations are subtractions // no raging star can possibly / restore. The stage is getting bare. / It’s time to improvise.’ I cannot praise these poems enough. —Margo Taft Stever, author of The End of Horses
Ann Lauinger's previous books of poetry are Persuasions of Fall (University of Utah, 2004), winner of the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry, and Against Butterflies (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2013). Her poems have appeared in publications from Alimentum to Zone 3, including The Cumberland River Review, Georgia Review, Lightwood, Michigan Quarterly Review, Parnassus, The Same, Smartish Pace, and The Southern Poetry Review. Translations have appeared in Levania, The Massachusetts Review, and Transference. Her work has been included in anthologies such as The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Decomposition, and In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Martha Stewart Living Radio. Professor Emerita of Literature at Sarah Lawrence College, she is a member of the Slapering Hol Press Advisory Committee and lives in Ossining, New York.