Dime Saint, Nickel Devil, poetry by Ann Lauinger, book review by Laurence Carr

Poet Ann Lauinger’s new collection, Dime Saint, Nickel Devil takes the reader on a fascinating tour through ancient and modern myths, mini-biographies, poetic essays, and insightful imagery from our world. The book is published by Broadstone Books, Frankfort, Kentucky, 2022, with an engaging cover photo “Lapsed Persimmons” by Pauline Moffett Watts.

What intrigued me first was the writer’s use of language; the wordplay always seems grounded and yet has a playful freshness that moves the rhythms and pace forward. These poems don’t generate into easy, surface reads, but have both a depth and flow so that at the end a thoughtful clarity is brought to the reader.

The book is divided into three sections but does not easily compartmentalize the world into Saints and Devils; it creates a more ambivalent (sometimes witty, sometimes dramatic) mix of saintly devils and devilish saints, along with the rest—the inbetweeners. Writer and reader observe the mythic and real worlds through the over sixty poems and as they unfold, the pieces begin to inform us of how they interconnect. This is a finely interwoven collection, and not a random set of poems paged together: notating, but never explaining, presenting but never drawing opinionated conclusions. I admired that I, as a reader, was able to take in the poems, meditate upon them and then conjure up my own thoughts. This allowed me to ponder further meanings sometimes outside the text proper but always related to it.

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The opening of the title poem, “Dime Saint, Nickel Devil”:

It takes a certain talent for bewilderment
to be a saint; that’s why they’re not a dime
a dozen. Wondering takes up all their time. 							                           They wonder themselves to sleep, they wonder 					                                     stumbling out to pee. They chew their coarse 							                          bread in wonder, wonder their voices hoarse 						                                    with prayer, wander wondering until they drop, 						                            then do it all again because it doesn’t
make sense, and that’s called God. 
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Further on in this same poem, the writer mentions the jazz pianist Art Tatum. I found a certain literary joy in bringing God and Art Tatum into the same conversation. The writer’s mastery is apparent that she can allow the poem to soar where it wants and then take us along without fear that we’ll lose our way. Ms Lauinger always has a firm starting point, but once the images and words unfold, she allows the reader to take the time to wonder. I found myself rereading and even stopping at the end of lines and stanzas to, if I might paraphrase, take the time to wonder, something we don’t allow for ourselves in these days of hurried stress. 

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I admired the range of form that the writer offers us. There are the more straightforward couplet, triplet, quatrain, flush-left boxed poems and prose poems, but the she also understands how content can shift form: short-line pieces, and others where the lines dictate the form, allowing us a more personal connection with the work. 
The short poem “Two Orioles” as example:

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Bird of brightest yellow: 

lend your leaden namesake                                                                                                                              trailing across my page
some of your flash 
                               and daring. 
               
          Give wings. Give 
                                      a pitch in air. 
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I have been a fan of metapoems, but I got a literary laugh from the poet’s ironic and darkly humorous “Poems About Poetry.” And I’m sure many of our fellow writers might agree:

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I, too, dislike them, my own included. They remind me of a muddy pigeon’s 
preening—a glancing iridescence, but on the whole a laborious process of 
more utility and pleasure to the agent than anyone else. 

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And although not an agent, it was such a pleasure to read and reread Dime Saint, Nickel Devil, and to include Ann Lauinger as one of our Lightwood writers. We’ve been pleased to publish three of Ms Lauinger’s poems that appear in this volume in previous Lightwood issues: "Was It Bansho"; "WhiteBird/Bare Tree"; and "Touch Wood". Take a look at these by clicking on the author’s name on our Search Button.

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I recommend Dime Saint, Nickel Devil to any reader of poetry and to anyone who wants to quietly sit, take in the words and images that Ann Lauinger presents and expand their sense of wonder. The journeys down this road are well worth it.

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Ann Lauinger’s newest book of poems, Dime Saint, Nickel Devil, is published by Broadstone Books; her two other books are Against Butterflies (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2013) and Persuasions of Fall (University of Utah Press, 2004), which won the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry. Poems and translations have appeared in publications including The Cumberland River Review, Georgia Review, Massachusetts Review, Parnassus, Plant-Human Quarterly, The Southern Poetry Review, and Valley Voices, as well as on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and Martha Stewart Living Radio. She is a member of the Slapering Hol Press Advisory Committee and a professor emerita of literature at Sarah Lawrence College, who lives along the Hudson River in Ossining, NY.

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Reviewer Laurence Carr is the publisher of Lightwood magazine at Lightwoodpress.com

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