Ivy Dempsey


2002 Oklahoma Book Award
for Poetry


The Scent of Water

New & Selected Poems

128 pages

6 x 8 inches

ISBN: 1-888809-26-4



The Scent of Water maps a pilgrimage from a child’s puzzled awakening, through the shock of adult despairs, toward the humbling wisdom of acceptance. How does meaning happen in our immediate experience? And what role must a basic sense of reverence play as we parse our world? Throughout the poems, these questions underlie the vital impact of specific landscapes—of trees, skies, and waters in Oklahoma, Kansas, California, and New Mexico. In trees, especially, Dempsey finds a symbol for our belonging both to the heart of earth and body of the heavens in a mysterious universe that welcomes biblical as well as scientific interpretations. A numinous presence in nature increasingly draws her to envision vast cosmic patterns of destruction and regeneration as startling analogies to human suffering and renewal. ‘We have been death, the dust of ruined stars—does/ their old light burn now in thought?’ is a line from “After Christmas: the New Year by Starlight,” which fittingly has epigraphs from Barrow and Tipler’s The Anthropic Cosmological Principle and the Gospel of John. Bringing the reader to both root and light, The Scent of Water proposes that the way we live and die can be transformed when we understand that one energy sustains all—our minds, bodies, each burning star. Then all that we see and are can lead us to bear “each day’s sorrow” by means of a “necessary art” each of us is born to acquire.

One might expect Job and Camus to appear together, but scarcely in the presence of Nancy Drew. One might ponder a tree, or smell the water, but then to notice a slain rabbit is unexpected. One might value rootage as deep as a tree, but then to soar as high as the high sky of Russell County is an unexpected plus. Ivy Dempsey has all of this available. She knows how to speak it, and when spoken, she has a precise sense of thick human meaning that comes in “the knots of the ordinary.” Dempsey nurtures humanness in ways that are, as we say, “faith based,” particular and open, candid and full of awe. Hearing her is to sense our lives are reconfigured, plain and simple, loaded and wondrous. The future is given in knowing the right word that comes next.
—Walter Brueggemann


Educated at the University of Tulsa (A.M., Ph.D.), Ivy Dempsey has taught at California State University, Los Angeles and UCLA, has conducted poetry workshops in California, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, and is now an Associate Poetry Editor for Nimrod. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Poetry Prize. She now lives once again in Tulsa, Oklahoma.