A Review of Larry Smith’s Mingo Town & Memories by Mike James

 

 

A Review of Larry Smith’s

Mingo Town & Memories

By Mike James

 

Larry Smith knows what a penny tastes like. I kept thinking that while reading his fine new collection of poems, not because he says that but because his poems are so concerned with the absence of money.

Neither Eugene Debs nor Sherwood Anderson are mentioned in any poem, but any reader might notice them at the book’s periphery. Like Debs, Smith is concerned with the underclass and with how class can go a long way towards shaping destiny. And, like Debs, he has an almost mystical faith in the goodness of collective humanity.  Like Anderson, Smith is focused on day-to-day, small town, Ohio life. Also, just like Anderson, Smith is concerned with language spoken in diners and factories. There’s nothing ornamental in these poems. They are as sturdy and as practical as Amish furniture. His characters don’t always do right, but they seem to always recognize when they’ve done wrong.

Smith is an Ohio writer who has been publishing widely since the 1970’s. His books include poetry, novels, translations, biography, and non-fiction.  For his many readers, this new collection will arrive like an old friend. The things he’s always done well he continues to shine with.

Here’s a sample to illustrate what Smith is really good at, from his poem, “Wages.”

 

When I break a plate, Mom cries,
“Oh shit. Look what you’ve done.”
You can hear the sound of wind.
Then Mom hands Dad a fist full of bills,
and we kids go off to our rooms.
Tomorrow will mean our old clothes again
and the counting of our coins. 

 

Now poetry is about structuring language as much as it is about anything. Look at what Smith does with the endings of those lines. Only one word (again) is more than one syllable. Smith not only sticks to the vernacular here, but he also uses monosyllables to emphasize harshness and what it’s like to just get by. At the same time he allows the lines to play upon one another with off rhymes of wind/again and rooms/coins. This is an artful way to not draw attention away from the scene. Smith does a fine job of saying just enough in his poems.

These poems are often about the moments of just enough. Smith’s characters do a lot of waiting. Factory workers wait around to see if they will stay employed. Boys wait along the river. Old couples wait to talk. They are ordinary people killing time. Now and then a couple of his characters get together and are like, “two boats mooring along the shore.”

 

Mingo Town & Memories by Larry Smith
Bird Dog Publishing, 2020
Poetry, $15

 

 

About the Authors:

Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines throughout the country in such places as Plainsongs, Gargoyle, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Chiron Review. His fifteen poetry collections include: Journeyman’s Suitcase (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He served as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review and currently serves as an associate editor of Unbroken.

Larry Smith is the editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio, also the author of 6 books of fiction and 8 books of poems, most recently The Pears: Poems. A retired professor of humanities, he lives and works along the shores of Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio.

 

More Reviews by Mike James:

Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar

Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney

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