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Tracy K. Smith’s Top 3 Poems of 2011

By Harriet Staff

Tracy K. Smith, in this little NPR post, tells us a bit about her to three poems of the year, and the collections they came from, which are Laura Kasischke’s Space, In Chains, Rae Armantrout’s Money Shot, and Ross Gay’s Bringing The Shovel Down.

Here’s her poem selection from the latter of the three:

Playing similarly between seemingly disparate contexts is Ross Gay’s “Love, You Got Me Good,” from Bringing the Shovel Down. On the surface, the poem reads as an address to a wicked lover, someone the speaker can’t pull away from, despite all the signs:

When I think of you
I see fire. When I dream of you
I hear footsteps on bones. When I see you
I can feel the scythe’s smooth handle
In my palm. Love, you got me
standing at attention. Polishing guns.

But as the images within Gay’s lines begin to accumulate, they start to do their own suggestive work: fires, bones, standing at attention, guns. Despite the intimacy of its address, the poem is quietly guiding the reader’s attention toward the context of public conflict. This suspicion seems to be confirmed, and the conflict specified, by a statement like, “For you, /Sugarfoot, I’ve been dancing / the waterboard.”

I come away from this poem feeling as though I’ve witnessed a failed breakup with a co-dependent lover who looks a lot like America, and this suspicion turns the poem’s final “Don’t know what I’d do without you” into an indictment of the speaker, an acknowledgment of his — or, rather, our — complicity in the dark doings of the nation that houses us.


Posted in Poetry News on Friday, December 30th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.