Book Preview: Nobody’s Jackknife

We are so pleased to preview Ellen McGrath Smith‘s newest book of poetry, Nobody’s Jackknife, which will be available Sunday from West End Press. Here’s what she has to say about the collection:

One time, at a party years after I’d stopped drinking, I told someone, ‘The closest I get to a buzz now is when I’m practicing yoga.’ I’m sure this has something to do with endorphins, but it also planted the seeds for a poetry project exploring yoga and alcohol. The poems inhabit a range of forms from sestina to sonnet to ghazal to prose-poem hybrids, mirroring the many shapes the body assumes in a yoga asana practice. Bottoms up and namaste.

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, you’re in luck: the launch party/power yoga extravaganza is Sunday. From 2:30–3:30, catch your breath at South Hills Power Yoga with local writer and yogi Jennifer Lee. From 4–5:30 at Union Project, the author will read and celebrate with a reception. More details about the event.

Gin & Tonic

Summer with its Bacchus-head of grape leaves.
Summer with its berry-bloodied grin.
The invisible highwire
from Venus to the moon
mid-June to salmon-sun September.

The power of green aspiration:
onion bulbs, beginner’s luck.
The lime-pitched traffic of birds in the morning
on the branches of your nerves,
the cat and the lemony canary,
cellophane laundry hanging out to dry—
moss on white wicker, spiked heels
on wet flagstones, lavender and sweat,
conversational hearts
on the faces lit
by flameless torches.

First published in Kestrel magazine


Stout

As in it hits the spot, the spot in which you live, i.e., you live where you are present.
When you aren’t inside the brown glass beading sweet and bitter of the day condensed—where are you? Forgiven by the skin when caked in mud. A Pilgrim’s Progress free pass from the straight and narrow. Hops and hops and hops and hopes like hockey pucks on ice.

Wholesome: good for the eyelashes. Fiber for nursing women. Stout as Stein and squat as boxhedges separating greener grass from just the plain, which has to mean the world is just a bee in your bonnet, a valley of tears, and a dull dry powdery dross.

As in, I spot you; it takes one to know one. As in, if you would rather sit inside that mulchy barrel all night long than be with me: I understand. I wish to God that I could join you caked in mud and full of hops. I wish to God that I could join you.

First published in Quiddity


Rolling Rock Beer

They don’t get out much, the horses inside me.

What I wouldn’t give to let them out just once a year,

the way the rich Scots-Irish do, up in Ligonier—

groomed and toned to jump and race at Rolling Rock.

They chomp at the bit, day by sober day, while all across the state, beer

distributors and bars are stocked with cold green cans

of pastureland and yeast,

the Loyalhanna boiling down the Laurel Mountains

over the prehistoric cliff where’s someone’s scrawled:

        If you love something, let it go.

I once lay back on that cliff while my horses fanned

and ran slipshod over Mellon land, hill and dale.

And I can’t help but feel that, somewhere in Westmoreland County,

in the back of a dark bar,

somebody strums on a guitar and sings Rocky Top—

after all that has come and gone, whole decades

       later—and it still goes down

like novelty or, at least, the status quo for those who sit and listen,

a cold Rock on the table, fingers at a gallop

on the denim fields of thighs, buzzing neurons doing

their own version of the steeplechase,

following the invisible fox, with a certain formal grace,

all the way to Sunday.


If you loved that preview, you can order the collection here. Who wouldn’t want these kingly monkeys on their bookshelf?

The West End Press, 2015
The West End Press, 2015
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One thought on “Book Preview: Nobody’s Jackknife

  1. Pingback: Book Preview: Nobody’s Jackknife » Littsburgh: Celebrating Literary Pittsburgh

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