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Dorothea Lasky

Dorothea Lasky is the author of AWE and Black Life. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, among others.


“The poems in Black Life absolutely sting and shine, often all at once.”

– Kristin Abraham, H_NGM_N

“Though cut of the same cloth as her debut, Awe, this second book is more grown up, darker, burdened with greater weight and responsibility . . . ”

– Publishers Weekly

“Encountering a Dorothea Lasky poem requires a willingness to turn over all the rocks, to take a good, long look at the creepy-crawlies wriggling in the earth. She will force you to acknowledge the blackness of blood pumping underneath your skin or the claustrophobia of loneliness, but she will not allow you to forget there is light, and that it can exist in knowing another person.”

– Kristen Evans, Rain Taxi

“It’s a pretty bleak road trip, through a landscape dotted with monsters and memory loss, and yet there’s a persistent wild joy that’s riding shotgun, existing in tandem with the darkness.”

– Leigh Stein, NOO Journal



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Black Life

The Poetics of Our Suffering


A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Dorothea Lasky read from Black Life, her most recent collection from Wave Books and a collection I’m absolutely in love with. She introduced a poem to a crowded auditorium of writers by saying “This poem is titled ‘It’s a lonely world,’ but it feels a lot less lonely being here with you guys tonight.” It was true — even though she had just read a heartbreaking poem about losing her father, there was a sense that everyone in the room had come together to support her. It was just one of those nights.

I’ve frequently heard writers and readers say that the best poems always end up being sad poems. It’s weird, isn’t it — the human tendency to let another’s misery be a therapeutic vehicle? I’m not one to make lofty statements about such a broad demographic, but I can say that I personally enjoy sad poems because of how I react to them: something about their gut-wrenching nature always leaves me with a strong urge to be a better reader, a better writer, and a better person. Maybe I’m being a little too romantic here, but I believe that in this shared sense of sadness, we’re empowered to be more compassionate and understanding individuals.

I mention all this because whether she’s writing about the mathematicians she’s loved or the living rooms she’s imagined, you always get the sense that Dottie is the type of person that understands suffering. The thing that’s most important about Black Life, I think, is that Dottie can get down in the mucky, muddy underbelly of human existence and sculpt it in a brutally honest way that reminds us of our own disappointments and shortcomings. There is, of course, solidarity in sadness.

Not to over-share or anything, but the last couple of months have been pretty hard on me. The thing, though, is that Dottie’s poems always seemed to remind me that I wasn’t alone in my misery. In this one poem I really like (“How to Survive in this World”), Dottie reminds us that “There is a lot to be sad about/but no point in feeling that sadness.”  I’ve grown very attached to this line over the last couple of months: in the moments where I’ve felt defeated and powerless, I’ve thought about what little could be accomplished in my wallowing. I’ve taken that negative energy and applied it to more important things; I’ve kept my head up, and I’ve moved on.

And maybe that’s why I find myself so frequently in Awe of Dottie’s poetry: maybe the poetics of our suffering are the only things that bind us together; maybe if we can see through life’s repulsive moments, we can be better to one another and (more importantly) be better to ourselves.

I promise you that there’s a lot more worth talking about in Black Life. I plan on getting there and I certainly plan on being less dramatic, but I want you to know how important this collection is to me. From the little I know about Dottie’s ideals and aesthetics, I think she’d be happy to hear that Black Life reminded me of how sad and ugly this world can sometimes be; she’d probably be happier to know that  while I was reading Black Life, I felt a strong urge to never let that sadness and ugliness defeat me. And that’s why I think it’s such an important and awesome book: even in her moments of absolute weakness and disparity, Dottie found a way to remind me that there still is a lot of beauty out there — I  just had to sort through all the awful stuff first.

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1 Comment

  1. brian warfield said on 10/05/11 at 5:06 pm Reply

    i like the way dl includes the reader, like you’re eavesdropping on a conversation in which she suddenly turns to ask your opinion.


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