Gall/stones (Scratch'n'Sniff Co-op, 64 pages, $8 paper), laurie smith's début, offers an acute and mesmerizing series focusing on surgery the Windsorite underwent in four stages, "the disease", "procedures", "demerol dreams", and "recovery".
Technically a constituent member of a sub-genre loosely considered the literature of personal disaster, gall /stones may indeed offer solace and reassurance to those enduring a similar ordeal; however, its primary value resides in its author's assured exploration and examination of raw materials many consider unseemly and inappropriate subject-matters for poetry, particularly when a woman elects to make public the messy details of her private pain and suffering.
Of course, in this context, Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor speaks volumes in so far as it effectively silences the sanctimonious silencers, those among us who regard others' maladies and misfortunes as little more than insufferable or inconsequential pains in their perfectly anaesthetized souls (until, of course, calamity is inevitably visited upon their homes).
Ms. smith, a poet of the first order, skilfully cuts through layers of anguish with an objective eye on the line and an almost obsessive desire to render the data of pain accessible and meaningful, shaping, polishing, and ultimately dancing attendance upon notions of the poetically permissible: "...[S]miling-eyed masks come/ and vaguely roll you down/ to surgery through a narrow/ place, square lights are/ the floor your eyes are pulled across,/ and grey faces bend/ reassurance along the way" ("the surgery as i saw it").
Along the way, on the road from disease to recovery, Ms. smith takes terrific left turns and investigates unexpected (though pleasingly resonant) rights, especially in "demerol dreams", the finest of gall /stone's four parts. With "roller coaster scene from the sublime", "gold fish", and the inventive "malibu husband", smith negotiates utterly familiar landscapes with playful finesse, ingeniously transforming the mundane into intensely memorable vignettes (where, thankfully, "I" ain't a "U" detour): "[Y]ou run down malibu and eat/ at spagos dressed in sleazy black/ and bracelets on your ankles/ trip the waiters who are/ waiting for their break/ just like you/ and what's her name/ who sipped back a soda/ at the drugstore made it big/ in pharmaceuticals. now i think/ she's dead, but she was a blonde,/ for sure./ spin, spin around on swivelstools/ hair webbing in the spotlight."
Ms. smith, a poet with talent to burn, cites Adele Wiseman and Margaret Atwood as primary role models and proves she learned her lessons well, seamlessly transforming the acute chaos of existence into unforgettable acts of stunning artistic clarity and dimension.