Taking the worrying image that each expression of a concept is soul using imperfect flesh to form imperfect language for imperfect flesh to interpret for soul, Smith provides a solid example of why people who are at a party with your girlfriend might be having more fun than someone trampled by horses; and makes you smile while doing it.
This collection contains 27 poems, many featuring one or more birds, lizards, or horses. Hidden from the reader until they move beyond the title is the strong presence of parties and other group social interactions.
Smith opens playfully, with a contents page hinting at other approaches than reading the poems in order.
However, this alternate reading order is subverted by the lack of page numbers, leaving each reader to decide the value of seeking out each of the poems.
Welcome to my garden.
Yes I admit there is nothing growing here.
It is a conceptual garden.
The concept is that it’s empty.
– Welcome to My Garden
The first stanza (taking the works in the order printed) potentially provides those who do not seek the alternate order with an answer: artifice is a hollow creation, used to fool others.
However, taken in the alternate order, the reader’s first experience is ‘4 Can’t-Miss Lifehacks That Will Change Your Life!’, a poem raising the possibility that our descriptions of the world fool ourselves.
Which – if either – of these is true, and whether further insights lie within the orders, is left as an exercise for the student.
Undermining the idea of metaphor as truth, Smith embraces it fully as beauty. From the classic ‘At your funeral, God closed his mouth’ of ‘Raspberry’ to the youthful ‘your attitude is two mountains high-fiving’ of ‘Your House Party Sucks but You’re Having Fun’, he abstracts meaning to show experience.
There are two things most people avoid thinking about:
their own impending death, and
their own parents having sex.
There are two things we all have in common:
we are going to die, and our parents definitely had sex.
Not with each other, but maybe. The 80s were a wild ride
– The Bottom Line
Even his seriousness is subversive. Inverting previous images of pretending meaning to hide the lack, ‘The World Is Not Enough’ treats a clear example of light entertainment, James Bond, as if it were real: the reader experiences the classic opening not as a fiction introducing a fiction, but as the poet-as-viewer being assassinated during the opening credits.
Threaded through these suggestions of expression versus meaning are the animals of the title. Communicating with the poet on a personal level, yet also being either dismissed, killed, or treated as symbols for other things, they hint at a life of instinct embraced and simple experience. Smith however leave it to the reader to decide whether this is an escape from your hollow life or merely losing awareness your life is hollow.
Appropriately for a collection questioning the superficial, some of the most powerful thoughts might be in what Smith doesn’t say. Where the quick joke of cheering yourself up by replacing each mention of starvation with that of ‘the October light streaming through a window/and resting gingerly on your dearest lover’s/silken shoulder blades’ fades with the turn of a page, the unspoken revelation that we do not have a word for that particular kind of light lingers.
Protesting the failure of language though he is, Smith leaves the reader with the sense words are too much fun to abandon.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection greatly. I recommend it to readers who are in the mood for cheerful introspection, or thirty-two pages that aren’t blank.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.