THE MID-AMERICAN REVIEW: Practice, Restraint Review

Mid-American Review, Volume XXVI, No. 2, Spring 2006
Practice, Restraint by Laura Sims.
New York: Fence Books, 2005. 99 pages. $13, paper.

“Laura Sims’ poetry collection Practice, Restraint is exactly what the title says it is—a practice in restraint. The restraint is not a holding back but rather a restraint in the strictest sense of poetic discipline and craft. This stunning debut collection is challenging and full of gratification for readers not afraid to trust intense lyrical poetry, brave leaps, and sparse language.

Divided into five sections, or “books,” each section intelligently and gracefully tackles the lyric, particularly the poems in the section titled “Bank Book.” In this series of poems, the lyrics meditate not on money as a solely materialistic object but as an emotional register. For example, in the poem “Bank Thirty,” Sims writes, “What is / Money // Is colorful / Under her hand // Is a basket // Of fruit she carries // Shoreward.” The tight, fast-paced lyrics and original metaphor in this poem replicate the physical and emotional realm of buying power. In other “Bank Book” poems, the lyrics focus on the transactions of financial institutions, such as in “Bank Eight”: “Isn’t she small enough / Down at the branch level / lake floor: // Soapstone, euphoria, coin?” Sims successfully uses rhythm and pacing to achieve dazzling lyrical poems full of moments that precisely trigger feelings associated with money and other subjects.

Sims’ ability to take courageous leaps within the lyric also makes her collection attention-worthy. For instance, in “Democracy,” Sims writes, “One thing unfolds // as a chain of things: the failure of making / a fantasy park / out of war // in an armchair, / the passage of hundreds of years.” The leap from “fantasy park” to “war” works exceptionally well, striking strong emotional notes of frustration and helplessness—emotions Sims presumably intends to engage with this poem. Additionally, these lines affirm the poet’s relationship with things; she brilliantly uses objects in her poems as stand-ins for emotions, to represent a flicker of experience or memory and the complex territory of things in the context of language, life, and art.

One of the most gorgeous attributes of Sims’ collection is the compressed composition of these poems, which intensifies the images. The white space enacts restraint and gives the reader time to reflect on the tension as well as the content and craft of the poem, as in the poem “Bank Twenty-Two,” in which Sims writes, “The infinite // Network of rooms // When // Nobody wants you enough.” These four lines display Sims’ talent for capturing tone and image in compressed language while allowing the white space to create a manipulated void, suggesting something like longing or loneliness.

In short, Practice, Restraint, is a worthwhile collection from a young poet with promise.”

Amanda McGuire