Laurie 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 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 “Coming Down.”
By Laurie Clements Lambeth
Starting from the top, my husband undoes
nineteen nub buttons lining my spine.
Three open. Where exactly is the flaw that brought down
the price? He’s searching for tears in stitching.
Plucking the side of the skirt, I show him:
faint streaks of yellow flowing from the bodice,
seeping dark into the skirt’s organza folds,
each widening down to wash. Six. A kiss.
An hour of worry at I Do, I Do, for naught.
All white yellows over time, I say.
Nine: I can feel half my back undone.
This dress just aged a little faster, oxidized
and burned in the shop window. . . happens to silk.
Nineteen. He opens me, guides the straps
down my arms. All that fabric purling
at my legs, foam and waves taller than my knee—
for a moment I feel the birth of Venus. Then
I see my body: bulges smoothed by corset, spine
stippled with lesions, glowing red injection
lumps studding my thighs. I hide them well,
most of the time. His hands stroke them, hold their heat,
subcutaneous Interferon half-globes.
In the mirror I wear a luminous necklace.
I see him looking down my body to the gown.
He offers his hand to help. —For now I can
manage. Still in my pumps, I hoist the right leg
out of its silk encasement, stretch heel to floor.
A moment for balance. Raise the left high
over folds, boundless yards of yellowed cream.
Like climbing off a horse, I say. One boot in stirrup,
the other hanging at its side—from such height
you let go and eventually reach ground.
[Published in Veil and Burn (University of Illinois Press, 2008).]
Hear Laurie Clements Lambeth talk about her poem and graphic “Hypertonia.”
- Find and investigate an object that has great meaning, like Laurie Clements Lambeth’s wedding dress has to her. Feel it. Move it–what’s its sound? Memorize its details. Smell it. Taste it? (If it won’t hurt you…) Now write a poem in which you use your object to talk about something else. How can you use it as a gateway to talk about something that’s hard to talk about? (Like Laurie Clements Lambeth uses her wedding dress to talk about her body failing her as she and her husband begin their marriage.)
- Count down in a poem, as Laurie Clements Lambeth does in “Coming Down,” leading readers to some sort of epiphany or resolution that the speaker realizes in the act of counting down.
- Focus on a moment in your life that is charged with emotion. Write a poem in which a speaker describes an object through the filter of that emotion without naming the emotion or its catalyst. (For example, coming across something of your grandmother’s after she has passed away. Describe what’s found without talking about your grandmother’s death or naming the speaker’s feelings, like saying, “her death makes me sad.” Through the description of the object, readers should be able to pick up on how the speaker feels about its last owner.)
- How do you respond when you read something you feel is cliché in a poem? What might be gained/lost in that moment? Laurie Clements Lambeth talks about her desire to boost her poem’s emotional resonance. What are strategies/techniques you can use in your own poems to accomplish this?
- Laurie Clements Lambeth shares in her discussion that she removed the word “just” from the last line of the poem (“you [just] let go and eventually reach ground”). Why do you think removing one word can have such an effect? At what point in your revision process do you think about what each word contributes your poem?
- There is an allusion to “the birth of Venus” in “Coming Down.” What does this add to the poem? What is gained when a poet makes an allusion? And, what might be risked? [Hint: Google “the birth of Venus” and make sure to check out the images of artwork that come up.]
Definition of Terms
Leaps in poetry are associative and create connections for readers that the speaker sees. In “Coming Down,” Laurie Clements Lambeth leaps to images of “The Birth of Venus” and experiences horseback riding to help readers better understand what the speaker is seeing and feeling as her body is exposed by the removal of her wedding dress.
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).
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.