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The Flooding World: On Adam Fell's I AM NOT A PIONEER

by Toby Altman

I Am Not A Pioneer. by Adam Fell. Charleston: H_NGM_N BKS, 2011. 100 pages. $14.95. softcover. ISBN-13: 978-0983221524

I stumbled into Danny’s a few months ago and caught—by accident—poet Adam Fell reading. The details are hazy (libations and an empty stomach), but Chicagoans will know the atmosphere of the place. The reader: a silhouette or less. The audience: huddled on backless chairs, nursing warm bottles of Schlitz. (“A good place to hook up with hipster boys,” reports a friend). Danny’s has a welcome devotional feel: a place where the studied ironies of contemporary poetry entertain a forbidden gravity.

Such a devotional atmosphere made startling concord with Adam Fell’s poems. His work is sly and earnest, a complicated (though unequivocal) pleasure. Take “Friend Poem”, my favorite from his new book, I Am Not A Pioneer:

When you arrive on a bridge

suspended above a mighty jungle river,

fleeing from religious zealots that are a part

of a secret order of religious zealots,

I will be that bridge… (1-5)

This is a well-worn postmodern posture, citing generic standards with ironic abstraction. Fell rescues the poem (and the posture too?) by shuffling into an altogether different voice, wide-eyed and inebriated with ideas:

…they will no longer be religious zealots

but condensed packages of nutrient-rich materials

that will flow to the sea and become food

for the living snow that drifts

through the baleen of enormous creatures,

feeding those creatures and keeping them

safe and happy and full

in the collected deepness of their bodies… (9-18)

The “flooding world,” Fell concludes “is the collected / deepness of all our bodies.” Here, the respective ruminations of digestion and metaphysics coalesce into a single process, and a single body of insight.

The poem lifts into this unexpected profundity through reckless self-division; it is a continuous coming-to-be, always acclimating to its own sudden timbres. Srikanth Reddy writes that Fell’s is “a negative poetics of identity”—a poetics that attempts to refuse a single lyric ‘I.’ Importantly, such negativity is achieved through abandon, excess. Fell’s poems are not characterized by the absence of identity, but its profusion—a profusion of persons, voices, species, all churning and competing for space.

Often this occurs within the same lines. In “There Must Still Be Something Left of the Minotaur in Me,” the speaker simultaneously occupies the space of bull and exhausted adjunct:

The children load me into the trailer,

padlock the tailgate, take the dirt road,

past the sanitation plant, the tannery,

the strip club where my friend

watched his student dance. (1-5)

The poem ends [spoiler alert] with the punished bull breaking out of the slaughterhouse, in an act of improbable, phantasmatic violence:

I gore my way through the men,

feel their stomachs give,

feel the razorwire,

the chainlink buckle before me.

I run. (48-52)

If there is a fantasy at the heart of these poems, it is for that sublime rupture from the constraints and confines of self. I say fantasy because Fell is too savvy to imagine absolute rupture—or rather, to imagine that such a rupture is real. As the poem’s title implies, Fell’s fantasy emerges from a sense of privation and impotence: the minotaur is both imminent in the self as well as lost, perhaps irretrievably.

Perhaps there’s something salvific in that ambivalent loss, which I’ll go ahead and call regret. At the end of his reading at Danny’s, Fell drew his iPod from somewhere in the darkness of the bar, and turned on Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike.” “Twenty years,” he said with palpable feeling, and swayed. “I’m going hungry,” Eddie Vedder moaned in some tall grass. It was a hilarious and awkward ending, punctuated by the audience’s confused laughter. But it was also oddly moving: a transubstantiation of loathing and nostalgia for the 90s into a compact of beer and pleasure and regret. That’s what these poems do. Even as they fantasize about escape, they pull us back into our confected, unsteady selves—and they teach us to feel new pleasure in that familiar space. 

 

Adam Fell is the author of I Am Not a Pioneer, published in 2011 by H_NGM_N Books, and the chapbook Ten Keys to Being a Champion On and Off the Field (H_NGM_N, 2010), which is available as a free pdf here: http://www.h-ngm-n.com/storage/SH76_NewChap.pdf. His work has appeared in Forklift, Ohio; H_ngm_n; Diagram; Tin House; Crazyhorse; notnostrums; Sixth Finch; Ink Node; and Fou; among others. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison & the Iowa Writers’ Workshop & teaches at Edgewood College in Madison, WI, where he also co-curates the Monsters of Poetry reading series.

Toby Altman lives in Chicago with his dog and friends. His poems are forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, The Berkeley Poetry Review and Birdfeast. A chapbook of his prose poems, Asides, will be published by Furniture Press in the Fall. He is cofounder of Damask Press and a member of the Next-Objectivists.

What Works: Graduation

What Works sets out to examine a piece of writing and determine one component that just, well, works.

Required reading: Graduation, Sex Camel, Beach Sloth's blog

Graduation, a poem published in issue 3 of UP, isn’t weird or surreal or crazy or about Wish Bone — that goddamn dog. For a poem written by someone who goes by Beach Sloth and writes in a weird, surreal way--often examining indie lit from the most abnormal of point-of-views--Graduation is pretty straightforward. Just a piece about a guy and a girl. Go read it, it’s short, we’re going to talk about it in a second.

You done? Good.

What works?

For me, it’s the dialogue. Both spots of dialogue (though one isn’t even in quotes) work well here. They're probably the strongest parts of the poem. The parts where "her" voice comes through seem to tie the scenes together, making it easier to see the rain as the narrator walks--despite that message being sent in email--and making it easier to see the narrator’s “efficient” body later in the poem. I mean, come on, “efficient” isn’t exactly a word you describe a person’s body with. A car engine maybe, but not someone you’re about to share a physical embrace with.

When it comes right down to it, we need this dialogue to show off the characters as individuals. Why? Because this is a poem we’ve all written, lived, thought-up in the shower, and read before. We’re all human beings, we’ve all walked around in the rain bummed out about a loved one, so we need to know the narrator’s body is efficient instead of say, soft or warm. We need that little extra somethin’ to allow the piece to stand on its own instead of getting drowned out by, well, everything else like it.

The dialogue is what works. Without it, we not only lose the most distinct parts of the poem—the voice of it—but also any notion of character individuality.

So maybe it’s time for the rest of us who’ve written bad poems to take them out of our hiding places (dresser drawers, hidden under socks and tighty whiteys), and give them another go. Have another go out at the dialogue. As we can see in Graduation, a little bit goes a long way.

I recently sat down with Beach Sloth. It was in a wicker chair--one of those big ones made out of bamboo, so really, I guess it was a bamboo chair--and he sat on my lap answering a few of my questions, slowly falling over as he did so. He smiled the whole time. A slow-witted smile.Full of sunshine. Like the sun, you know, if the sun were mentally disabled.

Mason: What were your favorite parts of the poem?

Beach Sloth: The detailed parts were my favorites. [Sloth burps.] They were also fairly hard as I tend to sort of make everything a little vague. I think this may be one of the more personal things I've shared.

M: What else? What do you think is working here?

BS: What else did I like? I actually worked on this piece a little bit. I enjoy how I split it up into tiny pieces through the word “but.” I have a hard time writing longer pieces so I used the break as a way of extending my ideas and interrupting them.

I wrote most of the piece during one of my periodic “undergrad nostalgia” periods. I've been having more of them lately. That Stereolab song in the beginning sets the tone for me. I can remember it, it was the second track off of one of their less critically acclaimed albums. The rain made me feel sad.

[We move and continue our conversation in a bathroom. He talks, his head turned over his shoulder, as he pisses. I brush my teeth vigorously.]

By the end of the day it was beautiful and sunny. Somehow the weather had transformed so gradually I barely even noticed it. Somebody asked me to go to the bar with them but I was leaving the campus for a very long time.

I visited my old school for a little while. It was in a really beautiful part of the state. Even now I sort of miss it. My current school I doubt I'd have the same feelings for. At my old school I had certain supporters and friends. Here I have that to some degree but there's definitely not the same level of connection. Undergrad feels far kinder, far more gentle, than anything you experience afterwards. I guess that's kind of what I interpret my poem to mean.

Or I could just write another poem describing that. I'm not certain.

M: So you're pro the inclusion of pop media in writing? You make Stereolab sound like an essential part of the voice - true?

BS: Sometimes it is. Sometimes it feels a little like showing off. With most of my writing (creative, stories I haven't shared) I generally use music as a framework for how to mold the plot. I have a hard time describing it. So I'd say true - with some caveats.

M: How are you going to push yourself with your next poem?

BS: I have no idea. There's a rough sketch forming in my brain about a series of interconnected poems forming a chapbook but otherwise that's it.

M: You should go do that.

[Beach Sloth takes my suggestion literally and walks out of the restaurant we’re sitting in, leaving me with an expensive bill, and two mimosas to finish on my own.]

TONIGHT: ACM 50.2 Release Party!

Come to our April Fools' Day Party at Beauty Bar this evening! We will be officially releasing volume two of our Chicago Issue, and many of our talented authors will be reading. Doors open at 7, and the reading will begin at 8.

The fulsome visages of the collected fools are as follows:

Chris Bower is a playwright and the host of the Ray's Tap Reading Series. You can find him at:holdmyhorses.com

Paul Durica is the founder of Pocket Guide to Hell tours and Reenactments. The Chicagoan and Poetry have published his work recently.

Andrew Farkas' Self-Titled Debut is available through Subito Press. He is currently a gentleman of leisure.

Jac Jemc's first book, My Only Wife, is out later this month from Dzanc Books. She is also the poetry editor of decomP.

Tim Jones-Yelvington has fashioned himself indie lit's first pop star.

Francesco Levato is a poet, translator, and filmmaker. Author of four books of poetry he holds an MFA in Poetry, and is working towards a PhD in English Studies.

Joe Meno is one bad mother, who also happens to be a father.

Writer/novelist and editor and blogger and academic and prankster and father of two and department chair:davisschneiderman.com

Yvonne Strumecki’s finally getting PAID to do what she loves, travel the country & sing. Published bc of bacon. How is her life even real?

Ben Tanzer is the author of the books 99 Problems, You Can Make Him Like You, My Father's House and So Different Now among others.

Steven & Maja Teref translated Assembly, the selected poems of Novica Tadić (Host Publications, 2009).

Michael Zapata is a writer and educator living in Chicago. He is a founding editor of MAKE. He works as an editor at ANTIBOOKCLUB.

All My Friends: Daniel Shapiro

A circle jerk of a column in which Mason Johnson talks about writing by people he likes. Required reading for this edition: Untitled Number Five; Matryoshka Doll; The Firesign Theatre; and a bunch of old, dead comedians you’ve never heard of.

Daniel Shapiro is a good place to start for my first All My Friends column for two reasons:

1. He is Funny as hell.

2. He is one of my best friends.

Maybe you’ve heard of him, maybe you haven’t, he hasn’t exactly been in a hurry to meet you. His progress in the world of writing and comedy is similar to the literal way he walks: a sort of sluggish, lumbering gait. He’s slowly rising in the world of Chicago readings, having most recently murdered—and I mean really eviscerated—a crowd at March 8th’s “Supreme Court” themed Encyclopedia Show.

That is to say, he made a lot of people laugh.

Dan’s background in television writing doesn’t account for his stories that don’t seem to make sense. Held together by a loose structure of jokes, he doesn’t need a sensical ending… or beginning… or middle. Despite this, they just sound right.

Part of it is his performance; you can’t tell what’s genuine, and what Dan is faking. His shaky voice contrasted with his perfectly timed punch-line-filled paragraphs, combine to create an act that you just believe. It also helps that he either seems perfectly convinced of his own bullshit, or is perfectly willing to call himself out on it. This creates a trust audiences aren’t willing to give to most performers. In a world where most comedians strive to hide their jokes amongst complicated, amateurish, confessional, Louis CK-esque* stories (have you been to a Chicago open mic lately?), it’s nice to see Dan do the opposite, and try to hide bits of honest story amongst his insane, respectfully old school jokes.

What’s most impressive is that Dan can do this on the page, too, proving it in a small handful of published stories. Through a written voice that is quick and simultaneously self-assured and doubtful, Dan grabs you, the reader, in a sort of loving chokehold (in which he tenderly rubs the top of your head). You can’t get away. One of Dan’s more linear pieces that supports this is a letter story about a man and a monkey, entitled Untitled Number Five:

“And it cries. All night long. A deep, hollow cry. I think it has monkey PTSD. The monkey also shows signs of aggressive behavior. It listens to Rollins Band. It’s constantly cracking its knuckles. Last week I caught it fingering a stuffed animal. I don’t know why it would do something like that, but god damned if it didn’t.”

Dan takes the voice from Untitled Number Five and makes things even weirder (and more meta) in Matryoshka Doll, a story published by HyperText Mag. It’s about a man, a romantic, if you will, remembering fondly the time he spent in his mother’s womb with his twin sister. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but things get heated. In a sexy way.

Yowzers!

Still, reading his work is no substitute for hearing him live. So, for those of you in Chicago, catch him if you can. He reads at my series (shameless plug), P. Fanatics, every month.

 

*Note, I love Louis CK. I just hate imposters.

Mason Johnson: (Not Quite) In Defense of Marie Calloway

Fiction staff member Mason Johnson on the Marie Calloway debate (view his orginial blog post here):

Everyone has been weighing in on this Marie Calloway person and I thought I’d weigh in because, dammit, I like attention too.

Here are my two opinions about Marie Calloway:

1. I don’t know if she’s a good writer.

2. She seems like a perfectly fine human being.

I don’t mean that in a jerky way, like I’m insulting her writing, in that I don’t think she’s a bad writer either. What I mean to say is that I haven’t read much by her, so I’m not actually equipped to decide whether she’s a good writer, or whether she’s a bad writer.

No, I have not read Adrien Brody. I will eventually, I’m sure. I’m just in no hurry. Is it bad? I don’t know. Is it amazing? I have no clue. I know there are words in it. I can say that with confidence. So, if you want to quote me, you can quote that.

Mason Johnson, “Adrien Brody has words!”

I have read bits and pieces of her blog. She’s a passionate person with opinions. How terrible!

Here are some thoughts that are tangential to  Marie Calloway and people’s response to her:

Sometimes, we don’t respect each other in this little, writing community of ours. This is real goddamn annoying. It’s especially annoying to me when we’re not respecting women. On a whole, I like to respect women. Are there others out there who do not?

I think there are a lot of men out there in the literary world who work very hard and are inadvertently assholes. (Or maybe it’s intentional). They see a woman (or anyone that’s different from them) getting attention, and they scream, “why can’t I get away with that? Whatever it is they’re doing! It’s because I’m male, isn’t it?”

No, not exactly. The reason you can’t get away with it is because you put very little thought into it. You’re set into your ways and don’t want to change because, on the whole, they’ve done right by you. They’re not always right though. Why rely on critical thinking and empathy when you can tear something down though? When you can whine and complain about it?

It is possible that these male writers are trying to do good by the world. By criticizing women who write about sex, they’re taking the role of the older brother. Half resentful, immature and jealous, and half protective, as if a young woman like Marie Calloway needs to be saved from her “bad writing” and “poor sexual judgements” by the likes of you, Super-white-grad-student-man. The best super hero of all!

Well, fellow men, allow me to let you in on a little secret: women don’t need you to save them. Or to correct them. Or to help them. Marie Calloway, a young woman with strong opinions and apparent talent, does not need you to save her. By judging women through thinly veiled literary comments, you’re not coming off as an asshole for the better of the community. You’re just coming off as an asshole.

Hope you can live with that. I’m sorry to generalize, I know all white men aren’t like this, it’s just the easiest way to get my point across. At the end of the day, we all make horrible judgements like this about each other. Maybe, once in awhile, we could get out of our skin and attempt to respect one another just a tiny bit more.

Or we can say fuck it and keep on keepin’ on.

Which will it be?

 

More on Marie Calloway:

New York Observer article 

Roxane Gay in HTMLGiant

Interview with The Rumpus

World Book Night 2012

Interested in participating in World Book Night? The deadline to register as a volunteer book giver has just been extended to Feb. 6. World Book Night will be on April 23 — the goal is to hand out one million books to underserved communities. Logan Square's newest book store, Uncharted Books, has signed up as a community pick-up location, so, if you're interested, sign up to volunteer now!

This week in literary events

Check out these readings this week:

Tonight: Two Cookie Minimum, 9pm, The Hungry Brain (more info here)

Tuesday: WRITE CLUB, 7pm, The Hideout (more info here & here)

Wednesday: So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel, 8pm, The Empty Bottle (more info here)

Also Wednesday: The Encyclopedia Show, 7:30pm, Vittum Theater (more info here)

Friday: Waiting 4 the Bus, 7:30pm, Studio A (more info here)

Also Friday: Punk Rock Karaoke Benefit for the Chicago Zine Fest (ok, not a reading, but karaoke for a good cause), 9pm, Beauty Bar (more info here)

See you all there!

Pre-order Issue 50, vol. 2!

Our second volume of the Chicago Issue is now available to pre-order through the independent publisher Curbside Splendor. This edition of the magazine is a continuation of our 50th issue featuring local Chicago writers, including the work of Ben Tanzer, Tim Jones-Yevington, Zach Dodson, Fred Sasaki, Joe Meno, Natalie Edwards and Chris Bower, among others. The cost of each issue is $12, and will be mailed in February. Order your copy here now!

“Is this about style?” On Ken Babstock’s Methodist Hatchet

by Jennifer Moore

Methodist Hatchet. by Ken Babstock . Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2011. 101 pages. $14.95 softcover. ISBN: 978-0-88784-293-1.

Reviews of Ken Babstock’s Methodist Hatchet have been mixed. Most have more or less mentioned the book’s difficulty; that Babstock is “no longer intelligible” and “wilfully obscure” (Shane Neilson); that the poems are at times “so thick with sound it’s difficult for the reader to find a way in” (Abby Paige), and the sense is of “eavesdropping on a conversation of which the reader is no longer part” (Nick Mount). All of these claims are pretty much spot-on. There are some strong moments, though; unfortunately, those moments don’t make up for the book’s deficiencies.

The first poem in the collection, “The Décor,” functions as its central thematic piece, a small-scale version of the book as a whole. The reader’s initially struck by its not-so-subtle critique of conspicuous consumption, and along with that the baggage of style, money, class, and value. While the poem considers the role home décor plays in offering a picture of status and wealth to the public—“a visual/of earned leisure” (2), this concern with style extends beyond this scope to the role of style in poetry. Babstock writes “Nothing now eases the buzzing/suspicion I’m being signaled to from across/a great distance” (1-2), and we feel the same way; but it’s Babstock signaling to us through the “clutter of//the manifest image” (4). However, what he wants is clear: for the reader to

 

Slide an arm right through

the surface of this picture,

into whatever spatial realm lies

behind the illusion of depth, to hold

the hand of the person

 

wanting so badly to be seen precisely

as they feel themselves to be (ibid)

 

One hears John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (“One would like to stick one’s hand/out of the globe, but its dimension,/what carries it, will not allow it”), and Babstock’s interest in the visual arts (Jeff Wall, Jeff Koons and Robert Rauschenberg show up later) is clear. However, where he wants his readers to see “whatever spatial realm lies/behind the illusion of depth,” often all we’re given is that illusion. At one point he asks, “Is this about style?” (3). We worry that’s all it’s about. Throughout the book, the reader peruses the design, which has supplanted the structure itself. Methodist Hatchet is built out of surface material and little else.

Most of Babstock’s strong moments occur in the book’s first half. For example, in “Radio Tower” we read: “Everything’s the colour of rabbits, scissored/from another world and pasted on thin” (37). Or in “Nottawasaga”: “Sky a motif of cowslip in clear ice, /mayflies make moon-dials of the flagstones” (77). And in “As Marginalia in John Clare’s The Rural Muse”, a hospital is the setting for a consideration of ailment, perhaps the same sort Clare suffered while finishing his last collection. Here, Babstock depicts a view:

 

Hexagonal window, the moon

 

penned in it, and a segmented swarm sucking

up peonies (5)

 

The beauty here lies in its simplicity. Where the language is clarified, pared down and precise, Babstock succeeds. That kind of gracefulness is minimal in this collection, its resonance oftentimes drowned out by the buzzing of so much else.Another strong poem is “Caledonia,” a political piece centered on the protests regarding the Grand River land dispute in Ontario in 2006:

 

Then we came out in numbers. Organized as Canadians

we came out in numbers with flags. With flags aloft

 

and hooting we stepped out in anger and in numbers. In

numbers as Canadians we came out drunk and threw rocks.

 

We threw rocks and golf balls as our patience had come to its

natural end. As Canadians we threw rocks past our flags aloft. (10)

 

Again, where Babstock is strong is where he is able to pare down both language and lineation. Here, the result is a poem in couplets that works on the logic of pattern and variation, whose repetition and circling indicates a kind of futility. “Caledonia” enacts through language the difficulty in affecting political change or social action.

Where the poems are unsuccessful is where they lapse into wordplay (“Que Syria, Syria”), overwrought syntax (“Bathynaut”) or longish narratives with little momentum to carry the reader through (“Coney Burns,” “Russian Doctor”). His poems range in topic (sugar gliders, video games, Lee Atwater) as well as in formal choice (tercets, quatrains, sestets, longer stanzas, end rhyme), but this wild variance slips around the halfway point of the book. As Babstock writes in “The Living Text,” “the slipknot of visuals begins to undo” (20), and at times it’s hard to see why these poems exist in a volume together. At best, Methodist Hatchet is kaleidoscopic; at worst, it’s haphazard.

But what I’m most struck by here is the ambivalence Babstock seems to have regarding his status as a writer, and where he stands among other writers. Many poems cite figures: Theodor Adorno, William James, David Foster Wallace; the Johns Clare and Ashbery. Other writers pop in and out like snippets of conversation: T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Antonio Gramsci, Don DeLillo. At times the effect is of name-dropping, and one notices a pattern in those referenced: mostly literary or philosophical figures, and all men. In this book I hear an anxiety of influence—a man trying to understand why he does what he does—but in doing so, he overdoes the poems themselves. The reader is left with “the fuzz of bafflement” (84), surrounded by so much stuff, but with little understanding of the significance of the stuff. I wish I felt this was deliberate on the part of Babstock—that he’s making some comment about how hard it is to live in our bewildering contemporary moment—but the poems don’t resonate beyond their own boundaries. The effect of the book is kaleidoscopic, but there’s no center focus to hold the dazzle together.

 

Ken Babstock is the author of three previous collections of poetry: Mean (Anansi, 1999), Days into Flatspin (Anansi, 2001), and Airstream Land Yacht (Anansi, 2006), which was a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize and won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. His poems have been anthologized in Canada, the United States, and Ireland and The Oxford Anthology of Canadian Literature. A former poetry editor at Anansi Press, he lives in Toronto.

Jennifer Mooreis a PhD candidate in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and serves as Poetry Editor for Another Chicago Magazine.

Joris Soeding on Ronald F. Smits’ "Push"

Push. By Ronald F. Smits. Scranton, Pennsylvania: University of Scranton Press, 2009. 78 pages. $10.00 hardcover.

This remarkably nostalgic journey begins with a boy playing with grandpa’s glass eye, citing the guidance of a grandfather and inviting us into a world of boyhood memories laden with jokes, falling in love, and the guilt along the way. Ronald F. Smits immediately lures us into a place where “even the clothespins smell good” and “the creek takes care of its own, / bearing the weight of centuries like a single leaf.” ‘The Water Pistol’ is a poem that typifies the nostalgia and rich language in Push (8). Smits tells of boys armed at school despite constant leaking, shooting each other in the fly and aiming for girls they have crushes on. Smits is strikingly vivid while remaining concise.

He tells us of collecting bottle caps, admiring the body of Venus, and discovering a stick of bubble gum in the wrapper of WWII picture cards. His repetition of words within a poem and occasionally into the next, provide a strong cohesion that benefits the themes of the book. The pushing during birth and pattern of moving from town to town succinctly carry Smits’ choice for language. The alliterative tendencies and infrequent rhyme add to the fun that Smits is clearly having, particularly in the opening poems.

Nevertheless, the heartbreaks of Push do arrive. The speaker loses a pink Spaulding ball in the sewer, sobbing until finding a way to reclaim it, visits a friend at the cemetery, and rides his bike from church to church in hopes of having an unrecognizable voice during confession. Even through these glimpses, Smits somehow pulls the rug from underneath the reader in ‘Bridges’ (27). Walking across bridges close to home, he suddenly is crossing one during the Vietnam War, “where, in the harbor, the wombs / of Victory and Liberty are pregnant with napalm, / the canisters as shiny as the milk cans of the car.”

Shortly after a great fear of water and living in the shadow of an older brother, Smits addresses the quieter moments and a passion for trees. We find him under an elm, startled at breakfast as a doe peers through the window, and simply admiring how rocks settled. By the concluding twenty poems of Push, Whitman comes to mind. Smits’ listing techniques and role as playful observer of the natural and industrial world echoes the bard. Yet Smits proves to be more humorous.

With Push, Ronald F. Smits has revealed his fervor with the lyricism of a musician and the abundant, detailed palette of a painter. Seventy-eight pages just aren’t enough.   

Ronald F. Smits retired from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2008. His poems have appeared in College English, Free Lunch, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Poet Lore, Poet and Critic, Poetry East, North American Review, River Styx, The South Carolina Review, The Southern Review, Tar River Poetry and The Texas Observer.