MUSIC OR HONESTY

Rod Smith, Author . Roof Books $12.95 (94p) ISBN 978-1-931824-07-1

As in his In Memory of My Theories (1996) and Protective Immediacy (1999), Smith's stand-up verse theorizing channels the absurd and the sublime in this third collection—or perhaps turns the absurd into the sublime, forcing a microtonal collapse of both categories. It's a style one associates with Kevin Davies, or John Ashbery's first books after The Tennis Court Oath in which he begins to use a mellifluous line but lets the waves break on recalcitrant, often acidly hilarious yokings of disparate strands of culture: "the regulars at the bar/ are thrashing Thomas Merton/ with checkerboard bathescopes/ & babblin about nondiscursive/ crap. I am a Times reporter./ I kill people." Along with a number of longer works, "Autopsy Turvy," is an indeterminate but still strikingly satiric excursus on the dark whims of testosterone-driven government ("the sportive hucksters are carping/ to the gunshop retirees in the gold dawn"), one of many funny, frightening and provocative political moments in the book. At their best, Smith's poems shuttle line-by-line between what the poet "means" and a kind of chance: how the poet grabs onto what swims across his ken and places it, wholesale, into a poem. The result is a unique collage aesthetic mated with the discovery narrative of the mind, a daily improvisation dependent on the tools at hand—"an unequal regret & looky-here-structured summer months cropfed distingues koalabies"—some of the most useful of which are unreason, distraction, humor, piety, not to mention music and honesty. (July)

Reviewed on: 07/21/2003
Release date: 01/01/2003
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