Mixing cats, coffee, and mellow commentary, Smart peels back the masks of social meaning that cover our choices to reveal that it might not matter why we enjoy things as much as whether we enjoy things.
From an objective metric perspective, this book is 45 pages long including front and back matter, contains five illustrations by Joey Grossman, and is the first part of two. Providing neither a table of contents nor a rigid hierarchy of typesetting, this collection rejects one finer-grain division below that, permitting the reader to breaks the words into poems if and when they choose: the five line drawings provide one way of doing this; changes in typeface or justification another.
Unlike Smart’s previous collection, Fear Like a Habit, this collection addresses the lives of those who don’t turn away from modern society in a quest for meaning, those who try to exist within it despite not feeling part of it.
warning: not the kind of book you’ll find at borders
addendum to the warning: borders no longer exists
addendum to the addendum: this book probably doesn’t exist…
This image of immersion and shallowness intertwined begins with the opening warning. The lower case b of the first line makes the traditional parsing that the book is about being in the centre not the edge. The second line subverts this majority, tilting the balance towards Borders, the book shop, cast in the capital-free grammar of modernity: this is counter-culture written for Twitter and SMS. Slipping into the superficial, almost expected shock-that-isn’t-a-shock of the third line, the transition from embedded within society to shallow and apathetic seems clear.
Yet, the subtle double meaning of the first line raises a question: can a poet see the nuance of one while not being aware of the banality of the other? Clearly, they could, but it seems less likely than a deliberate choice to not seem deep. The post-modern irony of literature not existing is itself offered up as only a mask to fit in with a society that wears rebellion like one of many badges on a rucksack, no more the actual contents than One Direction 4evar is a lifetime commitment to the most rigid of paths.
every morning we would make neither
nor war, but coffee.
neither would change things
but I still need a fix.
But this is not a satire of clicktivism or a call the reject all masks; Smart suggests self-acceptance. Instead of only measuring against the bar of the ideal preached and failing, score trivial need fulfilled and brief contentments achieved in the win column.
as he stood by and waited
for his turn to speak
but his turn never came…
Grossman’s illustrations share the same trait of immersive superficiality. Formed from wobbly lines and lacking shading or other techniques displayed in the contents lists of practical art books, they open themselves to an accusation of being something done quickly with little focus. However, like the brief strokes of Zen brushwork, they are pleasing to the eye in a way that work actually lacking inspiration and skill isn’t.
Combining an insight into how thin the masks we wear are with empathy for the wearers, Smart offers the reader a step towards freedom based on rejecting social pressures without attacking them, a message of support to those who want to take up space in the world without forcing their masks on others.
Overall, I enjoyed this collection immensely, both for the artistry and for the presence of coffee and cats. I recommend it to readers seeking a vibrant modernity that doesn’t preach the evils of genuinely enjoying a pumpkin-spice latte.
I received a free copy of this collection from the author in exchange for a fair review.