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

Larry Smith: “How Life Is Like a Jigsaw Puzzle”

 

 

 

How Life Is Like a Jigsaw Puzzle

We begin so eager and innocent
dumping out hundreds of pieces
certain of ourselves.
Then we get down to the
turning and sorting which
lasts longer than it should.

Crisp and flat in our tender fingers
each piece becomes its own.
In search of order we
border the puzzle in,
yet pieces range wide.

We divide the figures by likeness:
colors and lines, sizes and shapes.
The assembling begins in quiet—
trial and error our fallback tool.
We are going to need help.

Midway through the second day
we begin seeing pieces in our dreams,
find their shapes in our food and yards,
the faces and bodies of friends.
We sort and arrange, bridge
together what seems to belong.
Where could that missing piece be?
we ask yet know we hold them all.

Third day we’re at it alone
and growing discouraged.
It begins to feel like work,
yet we fear giving up.

There are lessons learned here,
a process taken in, the work
of mending, finding light, feeling
our way towards an end.
Something draws us, pulls us on
towards the rush of last pieces,
the satisfaction of making whole.

We stand back, take it all in,
then begin the taking apart,
piece by piece, and the
putting it away.

 

 

About the Author: 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 By Larry Smith:

No Walls

Union Town

At The Country Store

 

Image Credit: Alphonse Legros “Studies of Hands” Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

 

 

Larry Smith: “At the Country Store”

 

 

At the Country Store

Outside of the town’s country store
stand two girls in high school jackets,
their sports names scrawled across the back.
Laughing at the greeting of cats,
they enter, sidling their way back—
past stacks of canned goods and chips,
pastas, plates, and mugs, bottles of Coke
and maple syrup, stacks of hometown t-shirts.
Rich aromas of fresh baked bread and flowers,
coffee aroma mixed with fresh cut cheese, all of it
pulling them to the meat counter.
The tall one stops, leans towards her sister,
says, “Remember now, she’s just lost her son 
in Afghanistan.” The younger one nods, 
looks up into the face of the older woman,
“Oh, Mrs, Murphy, we’ve come for Mom’s chickens.”
The older woman smiles, “Oh, if it isn’t Sherill…
and Marie. So good to see you girls.”
Names form a sacred bond here. 
“How’s your sister Margaret?” Sherill asks.
“Oh, she’s okay,” the woman lies, not wanting
to spoil their day, like that fish someone left out.
“Well, I’ve got your chickens already wrapped,”
she says, eyeing their fresh faces.
At the counter she touches each girl’s hand.
“You two be careful out there,” she says softly
into their eyes. “You know how we need you.”
A bell chimes as they exit the door.

 

About the Author: Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer, and editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio where they feature a Working Lives and an Appalachian Writing Series. He is also the biographer of Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He lives in Huron, Ohio, along the shores of Lake Erie.

 

More By Larry Smith:

Union Town

No Walls

Wages

 

Image Credit: Marion Post Wolcott, “Selling drugs and medicines in doctor’s office in rear of country store. Faulkner County, Arkansas” (1940) The Library of Congress

 

Larry Smith: “Union Town”

 

 

Union Town

Once a month for decades
he brought home the Catholic Worker
folded gently and laid it on kitchen table,
where it would be picked up, read, 
folded, and laid back again.
A fabric in their lives,
like the Catholic missals
she kept in rubber bands
folded in her dresser drawer.
He spoke little of the mill,
except of friends, left it
at the mill gate where others
might stop in bars to drink
their bitterness away.

Their children are taught by Catholic sisters
of Charity, Franciscans who share
Christ’s preference for the poor by
having them bring cans of food each month,
and at some secret signal near recess
gently bowl them forward on the wooden floor—
twenty cans of green beans, corn, tomato sauce
reaching the blackboard with sweet laughter,
as the Sister feigns surprise, then bends
to gather them up, and they all
bow their heads in thanks.

 

About the Author: Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer, and editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio where they feature a Working Lives and an Appalachian Writing Series. He is also the biographer of Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He lives in Huron, Ohio, along the shores of Lake Erie.

 

More By Larry Smith: 

No Walls

The Story of Rugs

Wages

 

Image Credit: Lewis W. Hine “Furniture Factory Worker or Printer?” (1930s) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Revisiting 2019: Our 50 Most Popular Posts of the Year

 

Dear As It Ought To Be Magazine Readers,

As we enter the next decade, I want to thank all of the writers and readers who have made our tenth year so successful. I take enormous pride in working with so many talented and inspiring writers. Without your brilliance and generosity of spirit and intellect, none of this would be possible. It has been a great privilege to publish your work on our site, and I hope to continue featuring diverse perspectives, challenging ideas, and unique voices for years to come. As a way to look back on what we accomplished in 2019, I have complied the 50 most popular posts of the year based on internet traffic and clicks.

Thank you again to everyone who wrote for, read, and promoted AIOTB Magazine in 2019. Let the 20s roar again!

Chase Dimock
Managing Editor

 

Poetry

Jason Baldinger:

Ishrat Bashir:

Jai Hamid Bashir:

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal:

Jeffrey Betcher:

Ace Boggess:

Daniel Crocker:

John Dorsey:

Ryan Quinn Flanagan:

Tony Gloeggler:

Nathan Graziano:

Cord Moreski:

Jeanette Powers:

Stephen Roger Powers:

Jonathan K. Rice:

Kevin Ridgeway:

Damian Rucci:

Anna Saunders:

Larry Smith:

Nick Soluri:

William Taylor Jr.:

Alice Teeter:

Tiffany Troy:

Bunkong Tuon:

Agnes Vojta:

Kory Wells:

Brian Chander Wiora:

Dameion Wagner:

 

Nonfiction

Daniel Crocker:

Nathan Graziano:

John Guzlowski:

Cody Sexton:

Carrie Thompson:

 

Reviews 

Chase Dimock:

Mike James:

 

Photo Credit: Fire Works At New Year’s Eve via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Larry Smith: “The Story of Stones”

 

 

The Story of Stones

They lie along the pond’s edge
refusing to nestle or speak.
Their acceptance is to sun and moon
all types of weather.

Sometimes a kid comes
and casts them out yelling wildly,
another gathers them up 
and scurries them home. 

And sometimes a father 
tries to name them
pointing to their faces and bodies,
but kids ignore this
and hold the stone up close,
its surface touching skin
to hear their real names,

Later they place them by their bed
to dream upon—
stones that break open into crystal,
stones that shed a white milk,
stones with stone hearts,
stones to swallow as candy. 

Days and nights, weeks and months, 
until a mother gathers them up
and throws them out into the yard.
Under sun and moon again, 
they are kissed by weather.

 

 

About the Author: Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer, and editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio where they feature a Working Lives and an Appalachian Writing Series. He is also the biographer of Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He lives in Huron, Ohio, along the shores of Lake Erie.

 

More By Larry Smith:

Forget Math and Science

Wages

No Walls

 

Image Credit: “Pont de Sallanches” V. Muzet (1860s) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

 

Larry Smith: “The Story of Rugs”

 

 

The Story of Rugs

They cover holes in the earth
we walk upon when all else
has let us down.  
Woven by elders from the 
hair of sheep fresh shorn
their faces kiss our feet.
For days at a time 
the old sit in silence
peddling and bobbing
to continue our line.

And so, their deaths
move us closer to the time
when no rugs are spread before us,
and their faces are worn through,
when empty spaces
fill our hearts.

 

.

About the Author: Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer, and editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio where they feature a Working Lives and an Appalachian Writing Series. He is also the biographer of Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He lives in Huron, Ohio, along the shores of Lake Erie.

 

More By Larry Smith:

Forget Math and Science

Wages

No Walls

 

Image Credit: “Two women making rugs on porch” The Library of Congress

“Forget Math and Science” By Larry Smith

 

 

Forget Math and Science

Birds live inside of birds
tucked away for spring release
their naked bodies embraced
in sleep’s sweetness.
Their wings are tongues licking
each other’s face.
Don’t try to count them all
they’re an infinite multiple of six.

To love a single bird
you must become one
inside and out, top to bottom.
Then rise wings up and fly
sing through beak and body
the song of I Am.

 

About the Author: Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer, and editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio where they feature a Working Lives and an Appalachian Writing Series. He is also the biographer of Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He lives in Huron, Ohio, along the shores of Lake Erie.

 

More By Larry Smith:

Wages

No Walls

 

Image Credit: Frans Snyders “Perroquets et autres oiseaux” (17th Century) Public Domain

“No Walls” By Larry Smith

 

15584v

 

No Walls

Where is the wall that can hold us
keep us from each other’s love?
Artifice is nothing before spirit
mind melted by heart.
Dogs bark at its corners
bay at rocks stacked high,
cement poured into would-be tombs.
Birds fly over, creatures dig under,
people reach through and around.
We paint its face, tear it down by night.
Sun, moon, and stars deny it.
O, where is the wall that can hold us,
keep us from each other’s love?

 

About the Author: Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer, and editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio where they feature a Working Lives and an Appalachian Writing Series. He is also the biographer of Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He lives in Huron, Ohio, along the shores of Lake Erie.

 

More by Larry Smith:

Wages

 

Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith “Piece of the Berlin Wall displayed at the Newseum museum, Arlington, Virginia” from The Library of Congress

“Wages” By Larry Smith

 

Wages

Payday comes in from the cold
and sets a bag down in the hallway.
She finds her place at the table
where we are dressed in our good clothes.
Mom is already drinking wine
and Dad is telling funny work stories.
Payday laughs like coins falling on a metal tray.
We pass her the pork chops
and watch her fork not one but two—
“One for later,” she grins at us.
Like always we pretend to smile.

By the time the sun has set
we’ve said good-bye to our Payday
and a silence fills the room.
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.

 

About the Author: Larry Smith is a poet, fiction writer, and editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio where they feature a Working Lives and an Appalachian Writing Series. He is also the biographer of Kenneth Patchen and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He lives in Huron, Ohio, along the shores of Lake Erie.

 

Image Credit: “Alabama Tenant Farmer Family Singing Hymns” Walker Evans (1936) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.