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Topic: Carolyn Smart

More Lives Than This Plain Desperation: Carolyn Smart’s Careen

Carolyn Smart’s playful and heartbreaking seventh collection of poetry descends into the violent, hungry world that produced and destroyed the fast-driving outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. Careen’s opening poem, “Texas, 1930,” is a prelude that simmers, introducing a world of “prison farms with lean and beaten men running before the riders with their guns.” The skillful language that creates time and place is buttressed by newspaper clippings and startlingly sweet excerpts of Bonnie’s own poetry. The many characters run together vocally in tone, diction, and inflection (most movingly Clyde’s brother and fellow gang member Buck, and Buck’s wife Blanche), just as their bodies ran together, sharing cars, liquor, blood.

Alessandro Porco on Carolyn Smart's "Frangipani"

(How Poems Work, March 2005)
Carolyn Smart’s “Frangipani” is as close to a perfect poem as I can imagine. The poem is firmly situated in the imagist tradition, yet distinguished by how it subverts such a tradition–historically, a tradition overly concerned with the beautiful–by inscribing its central image, that of the frangipani in all its various conditions, with a subtle but unsettling touch of the macabre. The macabre recalibrates notions of beauty, while also intimating an underlying humor.
The opening stanza’s function is two-fold. First, it is expository: the speaker is paying her respects at a wake. The speaker’s experience is entirely sensory, as she immediately recognizes the “odour.” Second, it establishes a governing poetic style, one in accordance with Pound’s oft-cited direct treatment of the thing. Also noteworthy in the first stanza is its detached tone, which suggests the speaker’s disassociation from a pained reality; perhaps this is a defense mechanism….