Review of Laura Nye's Smile Bloody
“I wear my heartbreak/low around my hips,/like my jeans.” In the first few lines of “Kindness of Strangers,” Laura R. Nye vividly captures one of the underlying messages of her first chapbook, Smile Bloody, in a description that is unmistakably her own. Here she tells the reader, without expectation or justification, just how honestly she walks through this world. She is more aware of her emotions than most people dare to be, and she openly invites more experience and more pain. Her wrists are “begging/for the criss-cross/of more razors;” that is, she longs for more heartbreak, more joy, more chances to feel. “Kindness of Strangers,” like the entire collection of Smile Bloody, is raw and disturbing, yet sweet and full of hope.
Though young, Nye shows signs of maturity and depth in her work. Quick rhythm and a tight rhyme scheme contrast the angst-ridden content of the title piece, “Smile Bloody.” In poems such as “Who I Am” and “I Was Sixteen” she uses repeated phrases and parallel stanza structure; and throughout the book her meter is strong, wavering only when necessary. The best introduction to Smile Bloody,, however, is a closer look at some of Nye’s major themes.
Poets are notorious romantics, and Nye is no exception. Many of the poems in this collection deal with the many facets and types of love: from first loves to lost and unrequited loves, from love for those passed to love for those who will never be born, Nye writes with candidness and passion. In “Exhaled,” for example, Nye takes us to a parking lot. We hide in the shadows with her, and we feel her desire. Just as she is “shackled” by her love, so too are we to her descriptions.
I watched you hit your cigarette.
And I wanted to be
the clouds of smoke
She wants to be breathed in, to exist with the other, and then to be sent back out. In a sense, though, Nye seems to be skipping to the end of the relationship even before it begins. She doesn’t want to be the cigarette itself—a stimulant inhaled. She wants to be what is expelled. This is Nye, her desire to have the experience so to benefit from the lesson learned.
This is not to say that Nye treats the experience as merely a means to an end. In “Angel, Demon, Lover, Fiend” she describes a tortuous night of mourning a terminated pregnancy. When she coos “’you’re ok, you’re ok,’” the reader cannot help but wonder if she is soothing the lost child in her dream, or herself. It is her connection to the experience here that is so telling.
“Bottom of the Ninth” shows up yet another of Nye’s sides. In three short stanzas that describe a simple afternoon at a baseball game, Nye finds contentment.
Bottom of the ninth
life has given me
all I need to be happy.
This poem is a contrast to the harshness in many of her other pieces; it has a sweetness that pours through the spaces between every word. Her vulnerability is unmistakable, and not lost on herself. In fact, she celebrates it. In “Why I Will Never Marry,” Nye speaks of her vulnerability in a different way—why she hides it so often.
Smile Bloody is an ambitious project—and rumor has it that Laura R. Nye was cajoled into creating this chapbook by her fellow poets. We are lucky for this. With a framework like this, we can expect even bigger and better things from Nye in the future.
Nye, Laura R. Smile Bloody. Kamikaze Angel & Co.; 2004. 40 pages.