Wanda VanHoy Smith’s Boat of Dreams
I’m an Angeleno exiled to Arizona. Lately I’ve been feeling an excess of nostalgia for the sprawling streets, decaying decadence, smog filled valleys of Los Angeles. Amidst this slow flooding of my dry desert existence arrives Wanda VanHoy Smith’s Boat of Dreams.
The book is VanHoy Smith’s third collection of poems about her life in Los Angeles. It's structured in sections that bear titles from classic songs such as, “Baby You Can Drive My Car,” “Pet Sounds,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” which are the perfect markers for the themes of the poems they contain.
VanHoy Smith’s Boat of Dreams contains poems that made me laugh, poems that reminded me of my own feelings about aging, my own L.A. loves, and one poem that makes me weep each time I read it. In a piece called “The Voice Trap,” a balding radio DJ is disappointed upon discovering the overweight appearance of the woman whose voice he fell in love with. VanHoy Smith crafts it with no rancor or judgement, but a wry wit mixed with a talent for both imagery and storytelling that's evident in lines like,
“He walks in and sees a large woman
seated at a small table,
overflowing a bent wood chair.”
I also both related to and giggled over “Sex In The Dentist Office,” about discovering mostly clichéd sex tips in an issue of Cosmopolitan at a dentist office waiting room, except the tip about “having your man remove your underwear with his teeth.” I found it refreshing and affirming to read pieces expressing frankly, female sexuality, including that us women over 40 have sexual lives and thoughts.
But my favorite poem in Wanda VanHoy Smith’s Boat of Dreams is “Your Closet,” a deeply touching and romantic piece about memories of love after the death of a husband, perfectly illustrated through descriptions of articles of clothing.
“My cheek rests on the smooth suede
of your vest...I leave fingerprints on
the glistening black loafers...The wool
tweed hat on the shelf turned you into
Sherlock Holmes...I find you in this
small space...wish that I could touch
I cry every time I read it. By the time I reach the end, my face is soaking the page.
I found myself reading Boat of Dreams two ways. The first time I read the poems, I would open VanHoy Smith’s book at random points, read a poem or two and go about the rest of my day. The second time, in preparing to write my review, I approached the collection as a book of tales of life in L.A. and swallowed it all in one sitting, like a satisfying memoir meal. Some poems are stronger than others, but all of them work together as a whole. After finishing the book, I now find myself missing Los Angeles even more, especially the poets and readings there.
I'm happy to say that Boat of Dreams works as both snack and feast with zero need for a purge or a cleanse.
Boat of Dreams, © 2016 Wanda VanHoy Smith, ISBN 9781537226163, 59 pp, $6.95, amazon.com.