Dorianne Laux was born in 1952 in Augusta, Maine and is of Irish, French and Algonquin Indian heritage. In 1983 she moved to Berkeley, California where she began writing in earnest. Five years later she earned her B.A. degree in English from Mills College. Laux's first book of poems, Awake, published by BOA Editions in 1990, was nominated for the San Francisco Bay Area Book Critics Award for Poetry. Her poetry has appeared in numerous American journals and anthologies. She has received poetry fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently, she teaches creative writing at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon.
It is not surprising that each of Laux's and Addonizio's third collections of poems are being published in close proximity by the same house. In 1997 the pair coauthored The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (Norton); both have published two previous collections with BOA; both use candid and unsentimental personal history as a prime subject matter; and both have stronger work in earlier collections. Many of Addonizio's (Jimmy & Rita) straight-talk poems in Tell Me, dedicated to Laux, depict honest characters who are in the destructive, but often unrevealing, clutches of hard-drinking, doomed relationships, and all manner of problems that subsequently arise. Some of the poems raise the question of what happens when you risk emotional honesty and it doesn't work: in "The Divorcee and Gin," she writes, "God, I love/ what you do to me at night when we're alone,/ how you wait for me to take you into me/ until I'm so confused with you I can't/ stand up anymore." The situations are often compelling, and the performancelike language lends them an air of melodrama that many be intentional, but they don't really rise above the status of well-lineated memoir. The largely domestic and narrative poems of Laux's Smoke shift between internal and external landscapes in a manner that at moments recalls early Richard Hugo: "Somewhere/ a Dumpster is ratcheted open by the claws/ of a black machine. All down the block/ something inside you opens and shuts." Her strongest work here achieves a solid music by using direct address in poems such as "Books" and "The Shipfitter's Wife." Yet the plainspoken approach, aiming at understatement, often specifies too little, letting emotional nuance go unarticulated. While both poets may work in parallel registers, the effect of each is distinct. Unfortunately, many poems in both books do not quite locate the seemingly powerful places that generate the work. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.