Saturday, April 2, 2011

A book I like

I like the proliferative momentum of this book. Hank was published last year (2010) by Action Books. I do wonder, though, just how much my sense of it depends on having heard these poems read--or incanted--or what have you, by the author himself before I opened it.

While reading this book this morning, a phrase from a Kenneth Patchen recording kept popping up in my mind:

"The tune's got shoes!"

Hank delivers a mobile, active poetry that works the idea of form down to the edge of the line, and I'd even go so far as to say he seems to be driving (and succeeding) at the speech-based, intuitive form that I wanted (and sometimes got) while writing A Normal Line of Work. I appreciate the developed, self-conscious, rotund, country-music phrase-turning pathos (& pith) of Smith's poems. Some poetry must be played out. But as I say this, I wonder if, like Bruce Andrews before him, there is a necessary need to hear the poet to know the meter. I'm not sure of this necessity here, as I wasn't sure of it before hearing Andrews. Yet a poetry driven at a certain pitch should be allowed this obligation. We should be willing take seriously a poetry that depends on its performance. Here are some lines that take up griefs as they kneel down on subaltern greaves, but still outsmart the schmertz with their comprehensiveness:

then what am i but a cog
waiting on the gentle barbarism
of the next cog over
to give click

This is from the poem "*$^%#*^%$#" (or page 68), and could stand as a fitting comment on how bloggers, twits, or other anxiety-ridden desk serfs discover their self-worth almost exclusively on the virtual visits of others--on their "analytics," rather than on what may matter even more: paychecks. Just take a look at the discussion currently going on about the Huffington Post's big payoff while it is still wanting to post articles without paying authors a dime, since "exposure" is purported to be reward enough. And there is also the fact that the New York Times will now require paid digital subscriptions. Hot topics aside, the best thing about Hank's musicality is the developed, formal poetics of its paragrams--those words we want to be there, as in the last line: that we're waiting for somebody to give a shit, among other possibilities. There is also a wealth of evocative phrasing and colorful speech that tumbles along in the well-worn grooves of our inherited phrases and intonation patterns. I think this is what Patchen meant when he said "the tune's got shoes." It's what I mean about Hank.



Cover of Hank by Andrew Shuta.
"Pax" or "Peace" is a detail from the painting Allegory of Good Government by Lorenzetti (active 1317-1348)

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