Cartoon by C. J. Laity
Lake Michigan and Other Poems
by Jared Smith
Reviewed by C. J. Laity
How great it is to see small press publishers surviving year after year, especially in a world where the poetry is dominated by mainstream crap, and boring, dry literature chosen through a nepotistic process where professors publish their own students, where awards are given to friends, and where the major imprints only care about the marketability of the product rather than the quality of the art. So to find this wonderful title published by Chicago's very own Puddin'head Press is most inspiring!
Lake Michigan and Other Poems is a beautiful collection of Midwestern themed prose and free style poetry, with a heavy emphasis on nature:
Our peach tree blooms in northern Illinois
having produced one swollen vulva in its life
which we sucked dry as the stone it grows from,
(from "So Much Growing")
It is awesome to see work of such high literary quality with an Illinois theme to it. At the risk of sounding anti-PC, I'd call this volume one of great canonicity.
In the title poem, Jared Smith creates one of the greatest allegories I have ever seen, creating such a sense of vastness that the subject matter becomes godlike. I won't give further emphasis to the title poem, because the rest of this book is classic Chicago literature, even if it is enjambed with extremely long lines (thus its size and shape).
In general, the poetry in this book is rooted in the real world, with oftentimes-humorous commentary about the place of nature in the electronic age. At times Smith fuses his real life objects with his mystical imagination:
I think, if we are lucky, the photographs from inside our house
will be carried on a coyote's wail into the night of western mountains.
(from "Getting Ready To Move On")
and he heightens his imagery with unique petrarchan conceits:
where their dry casings afterward rattled the earth
as locust wings;
(from "Passage From Home")
We are a slow turtle dragging our bellies across the sand
(from "In Our Attraction To Electronic Media")
For anyone who has heard Jared Smith perform his poetry over the years at various Chicago poetry venues, it is delightful to see his seasoned voice come alive on the page. For example, you might want to click here to stream the audio of Jared Smith's poem "Seven Minutes Before The Bombs Drop" (recorded by PoetryPoetry.com for an anti-war reading), before reading the following excerpt to see how his voice comes alive on the page as well:
Seven minutes before the bombs drop
we are crying, running, our bladders filled,
our muscles quickening as never before in Kansas,
and we thump our open hands down on throbbing metal fuselage.
At times Smith uses creative wordplay in his writing style in order to mimic his performance style (or vise versa):
televisionadscarsbythebumpercroploadbursting out of new car lots
(from "Having Passed The Solstice")
Whether he is writing political poetry, or nature poetry, or observations relayed with great moral fiber, Smith carries with him a consistent sensibility that is rare among modern day authors.
One highlight of the book is his use of second person point of view in the following poem:
You are on fire and are the fire, lady,
at the same time that you rise twirling into the sky.
You are a campfire we built of driftwood on the beach,
and the ocean is moving in upon you without thought.
(from "In Our Attraction To Electronic Media")
Smith also has a way of using a single word or phrase as a catalyst to ignite his stream of consciousness, such as the use of the word "because" in the poem "Evening Along The Outer Banks":
Because we are endless in our separation
because in our separation we are infinitely far from each other
because the shadows on the cave wall are insubstantial and have no depth
because we are by necessity one in our infinite separation
or the use of the phrase "it is time" in the poem "It Is Time":
It is time.
Each morning the slab of your hand clamps down.
It is time.
To get up and drop your suit on your back and eat toast.
In the poem "Things To Remember" the title itself acts as the catalyst; by its very presence it gives heightened meaning to the words in the poem.
The ongoing theme of this collection is the power of nature, how it relates to human beings, and how human beings then relate to each other:
Dark rivers which are not there
separate the grains of earth and roll
out among the particles which form our eastern glacial plains;
waters channeled from rains which do not come from here
quietly collected while no one looks
packaging themselves in cement and metal pipeways
circumventing/going under everything we are;
the great fishes which slide with the speed and stillness of thought
filling their dimensions.
(from "An Erosion")
I have seen summer flicker in the flash of your legs running across evening lawns,
and have sought comfort in cold beers and hot charcoal grills,
in bluefish pulled from the cold Atlantic darkness charring with garlic sauce;
in laughter on aging wooden porches left behind by other families,
gazing beyond you and beyond the fences toward where crickets sing.
(from "Picking Up The Empty Packages")
I want you to remember this:
how city stone in evening softens,
how, like limestone, the heaviness settles,
how what was meant gathers in caverns
sweating with the coolness of patience;
(from "Talking To My Son")
And in this day and age the world truly needs a good solid message such as this.
You can find information about how to purchase a copy of Lake Michigan and Other Poems through Puddin'head Press by clicking here.
--C. J. Laity
Go back to the wonders.
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Note: Here is a review of Jared Smith's new book Lake Michigan and Other Poems.