Monday, May 3, 2010


Smith, Rod. Deed. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2007.

The center-piece of Rod Smith’s book is the extended poem-sequence “The Good House,” wherein the author explores the word “house,” its allegorical possibilities, and a particular aesthetics of accumulation which offer the reader “something vague, something almost not there, a something garish contracted from contact with fragments” leaving us “in the dark alone” when considering individual moments of the poem, but when reflected upon holistically, “there is some light [and] Maybe we can see it” (72). The opening section of the poem provides an instance of these characteristics, in that “The good houses the parts” and in “the house…/…/ opulence isn’t allowed, so to/ form is to erase what’s not/ gradual & new” (7). The “house” appears to be poetry composed of “parts” that discourages the known, or the “opulence” of all which is not “new.” Furthermore, we find “What matters most is sincerity” (12), but a “sincerity” predicated upon “the/ sounds made, in the sounds created, in the sounds &/ in their laughing” (18), not upon sentimentality or an outward expression of some internal “truth.” Of course, as an allegory, the speaker hopes that the “house” is more than just poetry because “If the house is just poetry/ we’re in trouble” (22); to this extent, we find an alteration of what the “house” can be, in that “This house was that house/ to many” and it “alternated, sometimes house, sometime home” (9). As such, it is this very alternation of the allegory’s signification that “gave the house hope” (9). In addition to the aforementioned accumulation of fragments and focus on sound, Smith often breaks lines on articles and prepositions, encouraging readers to reconfigure both the privilege accorded to the end of a line and the relative lack of privilege normally accorded to certain grammatical structures. Finally, the poem avoids proper capitalization and punctuation usage. The following poem-sequence, titled “The Spider Poems,” explores similar territory, but through the implementation of the word “spider” instead of “house.” “The Given,” which is the collection’s third section, is the most wide-ranging in the book. Some of the poems, such as “Barnes & Chernobyl” which riffs off of a Bob Dylan tune, are short, playful, and campy, while other poems, such as “Page One,” are a bit longer and denser. With regard to the latter of these poems, the poet employs a diction not necessarily considered poetic, using phrases like “gastric internecine cosmology” or “counterfeit proletarian justification” (71); in this manner, Smith takes “the sounds that were, so to speak,/ thrown away/ through the process of making other pieces” (73) and fashions them into a poetic idiom. The collection closing section is “Homage to Homage to Creeley” and re-imagines Spicer’s “Homage to Creeley.”

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