||The Puddin'head Press
This books contains the major poem "Lake Michigan," which has been compared to the work of Emerson, Whitman, Sandburg, C.K. Williams, and Seamus Heaney. It explores inter-relationships between the land and the people it supports. Other poems relate to relationships, time, and social patterns.
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...It is a lake without natural outlets,
a lake like the urn Grecian gods drank
from that never emptied;
but every man and every woman in Chicago
carries the lake within them,
and every plant and blade of grass that
draws its water from the lake
is likewise of the lake,
with a memory that has no memory
that can be seen.
The lake thinks with what is within you,
and what is within you in greatest part,
Chicago, is the lake.
It is pretty big...
Jared Smith's Lake Michigan And Other Poems
Jared Smith's Lake Michigan and Other Poems...reviewed by Terri Brown-Davidson
Lake Michigan and Other Poems
The Puddin’head Press
ISBN Number: 978-0-9724339-4-5
Reviewer: Terri Brown-Davidson
There’s a lovely muscularity pervading Jared Smith’s work that’s reminiscent of the more obvious long-lined poets’ efforts, Whitman’s and C.K. Williams’, for example. But Smith’s poetry is unique in that he seems, unlike these other two writers, not to think in terms of an "overflowing line" but to peer, consistently, beyond it. What this means is that while Whitman’s long lines are incantatory and Williams’ are loquacious in a relaxed, double-hexameter sort of way, Smith’s work, much like an Action Painter’s, serves the ambition of the gesture and thus, of necessity, stretches beyond the canvas. He seems, unlike those poets who grow more parched in terms of content as they age, to have too much to say to pack into the confines of a slim, sixty-six-page volume of poetry.
But this is not to suggest that his work isn’t technically superb: it is. It’s just that Smith sees and records everything in his poetic world with an acuity of vision that can also be described as omnivorous. Whether he’s writing of Lake Michigan in his masterful title poem, a long-poem that represents an explosion of ingenuity and poetic chutzpah, the lines meandering in a fluidly water-like way and yet channeled by Smith’s strong sense of purpose and direction and sonicism, or writing of the absence of a loved one in my favorite poem in the collection, "Controlled by Ghosts," or evoking a landscape soon to be leveled by a bomb (war and its devices figure prominently in this collection) in "Seven Minutes Before the Bomb Drops," Smith reveals himself as a poet who is both hungry for the world he inhabits and repulsed by it, its cruelty, its inhumanity, its plethora of societal and political ghosts. How wonderful for us, then, that out of this repulsion, this junkyard of the imagination, Smith is able to weld structures of keen, glinting beauty and insight.
His fervency, sometimes, it’s true, can lead Smith into a kind of verbosity that can only be described as psychologically compulsive. Some people might view this as a negative in his work, and certainly it appears, sometimes, to influence the overall quality of his poetry. I don’t view this as a negative, though, because I’m actively thrilled by those poets who consistently reach for the magnificent failure rather than the safe little success, and certainly Smith would count himself among the members of the former group. If, like Browning (another long-lined poet), Smith’s reach occasionally exceeds his grasp, the attempt alone is reason to keep reading him, especially if, like me, you’re an aesthete who eschews the perfect conversational "box" that passes in many journals for poetry these days. Smith may not always achieve his goal, but he’ll never stop striving for it, and, amidst his occasional "weaker" poems, I always find myself struggling for a glimpse of this truly remarkable mind at play and the concomitant insights it can offer me. So "Trout Fishing Along The Alagash" is a trifle, maybe, but I’d rather read Smith’s philosophical trifles than an academic poet’s "masterpieces" of stopped imagination and control:
A trout moves up into moonlight
and sucks life from the surface of his pool.
The life knows of nothing larger below it,
but is gone before it is aware of life.
Each day, year beyond year, the river dimples.
We are folded into our desks, ears clamped to a wire,
fingers tapping tabulations.
But Smith’s poems don’t simply address the political, social, and natural realms that he loves to investigate in this collection. Among all of his other rangy and ambitious poems, most of them serious or dramatic in nature, Smith reveals an aesthetically playful side that makes him, in my mind, the occasional campy poetic equivalent of Andy Warhol or at least of Walt W. on hallucinogenics. I enjoyed, in particular, the magic and linguistic sleight of hand of "Reflecting on the Visions":
If I were Pablo Van Gogh
and were to go to a window, and looking out, say
I see a multi-faceted tower of lights that moves when I move
and the sun gets in my eyes so that I squint and see bright swathes
would I know if the far side of the window were backed with silver
and the gyrations of the tower were gusts of wind slamming against
that thin sheet, or
would I know that slumping red and brown Monet beasts hunched
down in fields,
and would I hurry to take their sketches as I imagined them;
or would I look at that flat misshapen beast slouching toward me
and say this is me because I recognize the ravages of war?
Would I hear John Cage playing in the music from a farther room?
And in such confusion, what would I tell you then, or where would I
when I do not know the color of my eyes or shape of my limbs?
The photographs I have seen are of an old fat man with flappy
not the lone wolf who streaks through silent streets at night.
I shall be Hamlet listening for rats behind the curtains,
and their toenails ticking on the castle floors will be the minute
hands of clocks;
I will put them in a shining metal case and wear it on a chain
beneath my vest
for important evening parties, for the white haired Albert Einstein
scribbling on a board.
If I were to go to the window again and again and again, I would
take you all
and write that my name is Henry David Thorough and I will simplify,
and either I will miss it all or take it in.
Smith’s poetry has grown in its excellence as it’s developed in its range and ambition. He is one of our premier American poets, and I can only assume that, as strong as Lake Michigan and Other Poems is, like a rich and satisfying artistic buffet, his next collection will constitute an even greater and more ambitious poetic sampling.
Lake Michigan And Other Poems
REVIEW BY HUGH FOX
Lake Michigan And Other Poems.
By Jared Smith
2005; 68 pp.; Pa; The Puddin’head Press
PO Box 477889, Chicago, IL 60647. $15.00
A bright, blustering windstorm of a book. You keep wanting more and more. The style flows, blows, ruffles your oversaturated calm and keeps you wanting to just slide along with it: “Curse and sing in the wind/as you batten the hatches, you lords of Lake Michigan./Your flesh will be battered as the rocky basin itself/and your lungs filled with icy cold ‘til they can take no more…/then only you will fly as angels.” (Lake Michigan,” p.5)
It’s amazing the overview Smith gives of the history of Lake Michigan itself, the ores coming down from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the steel mills along the shores in Illinois and Indiana, now for the most part rusting relics of America’s former industrial power.
When he talks about driving through small-town Illinois, it’s more like an historically-motivated film than mere words on a page: “In Mendota, LeMoille, Princeton, Galesburg, Macomb, and Lewiston,/in every little Illinois town and cluster of slatty shacks collapsed in between,/the streets are empty of strollers, shoppers, lovers;/the cafes are closing down/the town renovation and revitalization programs running down….” (“Driving Small Town America,” p.22)
And he’s very aware of his pictorial, impressionistic power. In one poem comparing himself to Van Gogh, Monet…Hohn Cage, Einstein, and not Henry David Thoreau but Henry David Thorough: “If I were to go to the window again and again and again, I would take you all/and write that my name is Henry David Thorough and I will simplify/and either I will miss it all or take it in.” (“Reflecting On The Visions,” p.36.
You’d think the overall feeling would be one of post-industrial, edge-of-total-depression depression, but it’s not. His message is live, live noe, drink in the reality around you in all its variegate multiplicities, and then still BE, BE, BE: “Long life! Long productivity!! Drink the drink./Enhance life with the dance of lights/and we pull the mind of men apart again,/running ever faster to our smaller spaces/inside white painted rooms with airtight seals. The warden waits to check us in.” (“Coming of Age,” p.55.) Historical disaster catching up with us but in the meantime, BE. One last word about the cover of the book—a huge color photo of Lake Michigan itself. Not only beautifully written, but beautifully printed.
Trembling On The Verge Of Science
Trembling on the Verge of Science
Reading Nature. Robert Chute, Just Write Books. Topsham, ME. 20006. 62 pgs. Paperback. ISBN: 0-9766533-8-9. Lake Michigan and Other Poems, Jared Smith, The Puddin’head Press. Chicago, IL 20005. 68 pgs. Paperback. ISBN: 978-09724339-4-5.
Robert M. Chute and Jared Smith are the rare poets whose muse in informed by science and whose poems can inform science.
Chute, who research includes environmental studies & parasiteology, is professor emeritus & former chair of biology at Bates. Jared Smith is a generalist who long worked with scientists in institutional settings….
Jared Smith’s title poem, Lake Michigan, is a major work, Whitmanesque in its scope and more than 3,000 words long. It is “sea of experience.” It contains the “stars and corporate windows” of Milwaukee, Chicago and Gary, and nature and industrial processes, and it is too vast to encompass in a review. It becomes song. Of steel mills in the heartland and heavy freighters amid ice floes and, looking backward, the natives setting prairie fires to “scare deer into the open.” Only the poet can penetrate to the essential “it.”
To provide an adequate sampling is impossible, because as with Whitman, the flow & mix is all-important. I provide only the penultimate stanza: (he quotes that here)
An outdoorsman, this poet writes well of nature and spiritual states in such terms as early snows and the dwindling supply of firewood (“Controlled by Ghosts”) or the flickering of a lightning bug that is “an invitation to eternity” (“In Our Attraction to Electronic Media”). As the title of the latter suggests, the perceptions of nature are often placed in ironic contrast to the technological facts of everyday life. As in these lines from “Evening on the Outer Banks,” his imagery is a unique blend of nature & its antithesis:….(lines from the poem are quoted)
The emotion in Jared Smith’s poetry, even the most personal, tends to become universal. In his poignant experiencing, he becomes everyman.
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