Book Review | without water by Lawrence Mack

Hugging the hurt: without water by Lawrence Mack
A review by Chris Bullock

“bravery is hugging the hurt you know will come” 

Lawrence Mack

Several lines stood out to me while reading without water by Lawrence Mack, but this seemed to encapsulate not only the poetry but the whole approach to writing and living. Lawrence’s poetry is not only hugging the hurt, but anticipating the hurt, welcoming the hurt, and dancing with the hurt, finally making the hurt feel at home as a guest or part of the family, with some tea set out on the table. It is a book of poetry both deeply personal on an emotional level, but also as approachable and light as two strangers making small talk in the bar.

I had known Lawrence mostly through dance, as a frequent guest to several events around town, as someone who may study dance but still also enjoys dance. I had no idea he was a poet, but some of the best poets out there have developed lives which in turn inform their writing, like a written mirror held to life, and without water is not only a mirror, but a moving mirror, as if the surface of the bay, on which we float, until we wash ashore at the end. 

These poems have a very casual air, recommended for any aficionado of Frank o’Hara and the New York School. Frank narrated his day with minor inconveniences and pleasures until learning that Billie Holiday had died, writing about the small everyday things in a way that underlines both their simplicity and importance. Tributes to friendships and relationships as important elements of life, with the brevity and wit of social interactions, wherein we let slip a penetrating insight between remarks about the weather. 

Small talk hints at bigger things, or small talk avoids bigger things, but why do we need to address bigger things? Agnostics believe that the mind of man could not possibly comprehend the mind of God, so why try? Live how you are, who you are, when you are, with others or alone. It is what it is. We construct an independent image in the mirror, but we are also our past, with or without a family environment. The made could not possibly comprehend the maker, so don’t worry about it.

Probably the one that stuck in my mind after reading was “at least there are snacks”, picking up as a casket is lowered, and ending with the little things hinting at the big things “Pops says don’t forget the sandwiches in the trunk / Mom curses—she wouldn’t have bought so many / if she’d known so few / would show up”

This book really is a dance in stepping from pain to redemption to dry wit to exhaustion to joy within a single page, but also with the sense it was no big deal, just a dance, so lighten up if you can. Part of the environment is a newfound sobriety and understanding that sobriety can be the ultimate high, and taking please in noticing everything with a clear mind, and making the conscious choice to welcome the hurt that underlies any addiction. The hurt re emerges, the hurt approaches you, the hurt seems frightening, but it is also part of you, it is you. Once you accept it, you hug the hurt, dance with it, even welcome it into your life. And after any big welcome, there is small talk, topic to topic, and without water is a book of small talk which not only welcomes you and makes you comfortable, but also honors the struggle we may have endured to reach such nonchalant comfort. 

How do you get a copy of a book if the poet is always out dancing awake and asleep? I would try an email to and he will get to it when the music stops.

About the Reviewer

Tall City (Chris Bullock) was born and got bigger on Long Island, New York. He did a few things then moved to Colorado Springs after trying to study in Paris. He did a few things there too, then moved to Denver, where he went back to school for foreign language. A couple of years on scholarship in China, and he is back in Denver. 

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