Lauren Camp: The Dailiness
The Dailiness by Lauren Camp
Edwin E. Smith Publishing, December 2013
Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor
Lauren Camp has had a stellar year. Her book, The Dailiness, won the 2014 National Federation of Press Women Book Prize, and her manuscript One Hundred Hungers won the 2014 Dorset Prize, judged by David Wojahn, sponsored by Tupelo Press.
The Dailiness explores exactly that, the recurrences of daily life via memory, dream, habit, and heightened awareness, whether on home turf or traveling the world. The title poem has an epigraph by Randall Jarrell that clarifies Camp’s intention in the poem itself and the book as a whole: “…you cup your hands / And gulp from them the dailiness of life.” In some of these poems, she lives in the desert, praying for rain. In others, she is near the ocean, rivers, a spring, or a pond. But she is always ready to taste life, to gulp life, to hold it in the cup of her hands, and to offer the reader a clear, sweet drink of it, as well.
Indeed, I recognized many moments and scenes in these poems as part of my own dailiness as a human being: “Tiny ants began appearing in my kitchen last week.” This happens to me every spring. Does it happen to you? In “Drama Class, 1989,” I encountered not just drama class and performance anxiety, but also Tillie Olsen and ironing, a thing I know how to do (having had my drama class at least a decade earlier!). Oh, how I love the insight on youth in this poem, which ends:
I had never shaped a shirt, never
laundered a mistake, didn’t know how to poke
toward sags and puckers, how to wait.
That fake iron couldn’t straighten any life.
I needed time to bend and smooth
some dangers, to snag and mess again.
Back then my life was long, unrolled—
everything flat, still frivolous, unwrinkled.
While I knew how to iron from a young age, I, too, was not yet wrinkled. I needed my life to unfold…. And I so appreciate her dreamy bicycle poem, “Toward Summer,” a long vertical poem of short lines, like riding uphill. Here’s an opening sample:
Riding a bike up the hill
toward summer, I enter
a vast field of understanding.
My wheels carve tracks
through the rapid language
of morning. Shifting gears,
I unfurl past a woman
from a long book of myths,
its spine boundless, unlaced.
I can tell the story is unfolding
because tiny words and letters
drop in piles as she turns pages.
A strange code of bold
and swerved italics litter the grass.
You’ve had morning dreams like that, haven’t you? When, finally, you understand everything, open your eyes, and it’s gone!
The Dailiness captures life’s endless variety with a variety of forms: lyric poem, prose poem, elegy, pantoum, list poem, the scattered-looking poem of many indentations, the long poem, the short poem, and so on, all that a real and poetic life might hold. “The Dailiness” is set up as a series of excerpts from a daily diary. “A Week in L.A.”—a set of separately titled prose poems—reads like a dream journal.
The sense of recurrence is enhanced by poems that echo other poems, as well as shared experiences. The end of “Out walking” is a lovely echo of Jane Kenyon’s “Let Evening Come” while also being purely itself, a poem unafraid to state the facts:
and now I understand how you can tell me stage 4 inoperable cancer
without choking on fear
because dark will come on as it does
so let it
Close observation of nature and landscape also provide evidence of the dailiness. I can look out my window this minute and agree with these lines from “A Form of Light”:
What is gold sugar and crimson
will turn brown
it is about to happen
In “Journey,” Camp confesses to finding the dailiness everywhere, in this instance, in Ireland: “I traveled to forget // and found ordinary days, barefoot and hopeful / as the ones I left behind.” This poem of physical and metaphysical journeying bumps right up against “To Be Still,” one example of the fine ordering of poems in this book.
“To Be Still” begins:
Sometimes you have to drive
through a river basin and a bracelet of cypress
to find the center of forgetting.
The same poem offers a quiet stanza of universal wisdom on this move-to-be-still, travel-to-come-home theme:
The sky has not fallen, not yet.
If you have to move to be still,
be satisfied by this.
Followed by a stanza that also refers back to a poem early in the book (the ironing poem):
Let the world offer the roughed-up edges
of a stacked wall, each stone talking
about what it can’t contain.
Life will wrinkle the surfaces and rough up the edges of everything, for sure. Or smooth them.
I have been reading and re-reading these poems since they first arrived, in late December, and here I sit, still reading. They invite such wrinkling and such focus. Today I am struck by the ending of “A Week in L.A.”: “Time to arrive mid-sentence devastated by snow.” The line has its own context in the poem, of course, at the end of the week in L.A., and a very fitting context here, today, in November, the first snows arriving in the American Midwest, where I live and read.
But I’ll leave you with the perfectly timely short poem, “November,” first published in Spoon River Poetry Review and reprinted in Malpaís Review:
This is a lopsided world when your smile
reminds me of things that have been discarded.
Everything you see now is pretend:
nine sad syllables of uncertainty.
If we start at the end,
perhaps you will forget the day I threw rocks,
every tooth of exhaustion
ripped out, every road lined in pine. If there was a night,
I would have slept. Instead, I walked for a year,
my center buried in routes I kept passing.