The short version: If you only read one book of poetry this year, let it be this one. As someone who loves poetry, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was beautifully written, and provides incredible insight to those who feel most forgotten in the course of humanity.
The long version: Let me first say, I am in awe of this book. The last poetry book that I read, I finished in a day. It was a quick, easy read that left me feeling pretty good about myself afterward. But Lauren Schmidt’s Filthy Labors, with its poems on family, religion, and the Haven House for Women and Children, didn’t allow me to do that.
Despite the fact that this book had less than a hundred pages of poetry, it took me four days to read it. It wasn’t that it was difficult to read or unenjoyable. The reason I read so much slower than usual was because so many of the poems were so beautifully written, that I was afraid of reading this book too fast; I didn’t want any of the poems to get lost amidst the rest.
When I say these poems are some of the most well-written poems I’ve read, there’s a lot that comes into play. Each section of poetry is prefaced by a quote from Walt Whitman, which sets up the perfect framework for the following poems. The lines are full of musicality and lyricism; there’s so much rhythm and internal rhyme and assonance that I actually had to read many of them out loud, because I just wanted so desperately to hear them instead of just read them. The structure of the poems is involved, too. There’s a healthy balance between free-form poems and poems that are more traditionally structured; you’ll see a smattering of villanelles, pantoums, and other poem formats. Line and stanza breaks are in the perfect places to imply double meanings, or to set the speed and tone of the poem. Even the order in which the poems are printed worked its magic on me, pushing me to read more right up to the end.
Despite how amazingly well-written these poems are, this is not a book to read if you’re looking for something that will allow you to sit there and feel good about yourself afterward. This is much more a call to action and, at the very least, contemplation. Schmidt doesn’t come across as preachy or judgmental, but in her explorations of her own dealings with family members and other people in her life, she challenges her readers to question how they themselves have treated and thought about their fellow humans. (There were several times when I was just sitting there thinking something like, “I can’t believe you would say that about your own grandfa– Listen, I may have thought it before, but YOU’RE the one who wrote it down and published it!!” But, of course, that’s pretty much what she’s getting at.) She also questions why we sometimes think of helping others as a sort of filthy chore, and what we are doing to change those thoughts.
Long story short, this was an amazing collection of poetry, and I can’t wait for its publication date so I can buy a hardcopy to keep on my poetry shelf. If you have any interest in reading poetry, I would definitely find a copy of Filthy Labors for yourself!
Overall, I gave Filthy Labors 5 stars:
Thanks for reading! If you plan on reading this book, let me know why, or, if you’ve already read it, let me know what you think in the comments below!