(Fence Books, 2013) 
Commonplace book, primer for the self, language sampler, almanac, dream journal—all these terms might describe how this new book by Lee Ann Brown behaves. With Brown as our guide we’re caught up in the laurels (that’s the tree or glory itself) that are found in the landscape around Madison County, North Carolina and along the French Broad River which flows through the Appalachian mountains. This locale fuels her poetic project, and her language remnants shimmer like silt floating on the river’s surface, and include song, gossip, signage, lists, family and community lore:

                  Just know I want to,
                  Billy in the low ground


                  This song has an Extry Part
                  That I made a little bit crooked


                  Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
                  This is a new song

                  That sounds like an old song.
                  That’s why we like it.

                  You’re every song I ever heard
                  Sing for me my mockingbird

                                                               (“If I Don’t Shake your Hand Or Hug Your Neck”)

Jonathan Williams to whom she dedicates the book is a presiding muse and model. Williams, sometime member of the Black Mountain School, an eccentric taker-in-of- strays, fused the avant-garde with folk traditions of Appalachia. While Brown emulates some of his impulses and forms, she ventures further than Williams and includes some of the rough materials used in her own poetic process. We enter the private-page-space of this creator. In order to simulate an “authentic” sense of a writerly commonplace book she incorporates a cursive font and scatters fragmented jottings near the bottom of the page. These perform like directions to herself or musings on acts of creating design and form: “How 

can 

/ 

I 

keep 

/ 

so 

they 

won’t 

/ 

unravel”

 and “the end lady counter clockwise round 

the 

outside” 

and “igneous 

and 

meta-morphic 

rocks 

/ 

the 

crystalline 

Appalachians.” We become privy to her inventions and personal aesthetic concerns, but also aware of the communal and social aspects of the endeavor. Brown casts a wide net of poetic intersubjectivity, catching up echoes of Stein, Woolf, Niedecker, mystic nature writer Opal Whiteley, bluegrass singers, and samplings from a common domestic lingual trove: weeding instructions, weaving incantations, the tangle talk of childhood which, as a mother, she’s absorbed unapologetically:

               She spins it like a tiny DJ on her alphabet box. Windy Mandy over
               the wall straggles in with beeping shoes, lit up like a kite. The leaves
               are out of pollen or soon will be. Who are you calling a verdant lush.
               Here, mommy hold this mess. Don’t say to me. I don’t like to. Blap is
               my friend. He’s a boy (“Dousing for Dummies”).


In Virginia Jackson’s ground-breaking book Dickinson’s 

Misery we re-discover some of the “matter” that Emily Dickinson incorporated into her original compositions: cut-outs from children’s primers, chocolate candy wrappers, squished crickets, and flower petals. Bringing ephemera to light re-animates and complicates Dickinson’s labors. Jackson also cautions us to be wary of our learned reading habits, i.e., distancing a “poem” from its multiple genres, processes, and contexts. Lee Ann Brown’s In the Laurels, Caught hopes to restore and celebrate this hands-on poem making, “sing 

them 

/ 

backwards 

/ 

to 

the 

/

 source.” This is a wonderfully quirky and rhapsodic book.

                                                                                                —Molly Bendall 

 

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