Photo provided by Laurie Clements LambethLaurie Clements Lambeth’s debut collection Veil and Burn (University of Illinois Press, 2008) was selected by Maxine Kumin for the 2006 National Poetry Series. Her poems most recently appeared in The Great River Review, Crazyhorse, Zone 3, Seneca Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and Bellevue Literary Review, where Tina Chang selected her poem for BLR’s 2014 Marica and Jan Vilcek prize for poetry. Lambeth’s poems have been recently anthologized in Beauty is a Verb and A Face to Meet the Faces. Concurrently working on a hybrid memoir and her second poetry collection, she teaches Medicine and Society courses in the University of Houston’s Honors College.

Laurie Clements Lambeth talks about avoiding cliché and oversentimentality in the poem and graphic “Hypertonia.”


By Laurie Clements Lambeth

*Please follow this link to read the poem with its original formatting found in Tupelo Quarterly.

Without intent, the muscles
twitch, spasm, kink,
shut the jaw, shake
food loose from the fork,
stun inert limbs awake.

Once, I was nearly shut entirely,
uncertain what shape I might take,
spiral nautilus or hinged mussel—;

is the shape of life a great tightening,
spun into ball or clamped into board?

Light as a feather,
stiff as a board
, the girls chanted
at Lisa Mattimoe’s party,
lifting my willing child-body
with only fingertips.

It must carry weight, this life,
all accumulation and heft,
into the taut
whisper of motion for a spell.

When you hold me, living,
the muscles yield to you,
but never entirely release.

When I am lifted to that final
place, they will slacken,
the body a relaxed, melting thing.

And again tighten.



By Laurie Clements Lambeth


Writing Prompts
: Take a poem you have written and re-vision it as a graphic (using Laurie Clements Lambeth’s examples above as inspiration). Next, use your graphic to help you revise your poem (consider its brevity, imagery, etc.).


Definition of Terms

Leaps in poetry are associative and create connections for readers that the speaker sees. Laurie Clements Lambeth talks about the associative leap between the sensation of her body tightening after taking medication and playing “light as a feather, stiff as a board” at a slumber party in her youth.

A metaphor is a comparison created in a figure of speech between two different things that have similarities. Consider Simon and Garfunkel’s song “I Am a Rock.” Metaphor is often talked about with similes, which also create comparisons between two things. Think of metaphor as the whole (I am a rock) and simile as the part (I am rough like a rock).

Hypertonia is when your muscles get very tight and lose their strength (as Laurie Clements Lambeth describes in her poem and graphic “Hypertonia”).

Cliché happens when an idea, image, language is overused (sometimes to a point in which the original meaning/intention is forgotten).

Oversentimentality happens when there is a sentimental moment in a poem that seems insincere or disingenuous. Essentially, the reader doesn’t buy it.




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