Heroin: And Other Poems

Charlie Smith, Author W. W. Norton & Company $22 (95p) ISBN 978-0-393-04997-8
Despite the gimmickiness of its title, Smith's latest book is less about smack than about the kind of person who turns to poetry compulsively, and who, having survived addiction, debates whether poetry's function is to intoxicate or to sober up writer and reader. Smith's search for ""some way of putting things that captures/ something otherwise unendurable"" leads him to pepper colorfully self-loathing confessionalism (the most dominant mode here) with highly charged metaphoric evocations of ""the terrible thoughts/ coming out of the woods like old men in gray suits"" and an obsession with the nature of change. ""Honesty"" is a slow, sober, short-lined meditation on the difficulties of apprehending, articulating and acting on simmering dilemmas. In catalogue poems like ""Beds,"" ""As for Trees,"" ""Moon, Moon,"" and ""Beautyworks,"" Smith forgoes investigations into the bottomless pit of subjectivity to celebrate the intoxicating possibilities of trying to get it all down. While the attempt to affirm a present often relies too heavily on the vatic, in ""Beautyworks"" Smith finds a winning tonal synthesis: ""beauty's like this,/ a lingerer at parties,/ last to get the taste of love out of its mouth,/ a friend locked up for his own good..../ the endless variety of the natural world/ always on the other side of consciousness, no way... this is beauty.../ to understand a thing about it--."" Sympathetic character studies, such as ""A Near Relation"" and ""Indians Driving Pickup Trucks"" and the narrative of his grandfather in ""Originations,"" reveal the Southern, rural roots of Smith's speaker. That Smith can also write well in a neo-Ashberian urban sophisticate mode (especially in ""East End"" and ""At This Hour"") gives this winning fifth collection further range and perspective. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
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