wholemeal halfwits in the bunker silo’s
frontal sinus palate polojama
the sighting mirror
clogs the thongs pumps welding
the refueling probe’s washing
counterweight to the cliff’s
fall up, orange in the grapeleaf, upper in the
plack the part
soap song & divide the parish, caulked
the regulars at the bar
user-assistance escapades inching in the furiously significant maze
separate opposite not-meet missing & impy rethreshed
meanies & their operas, nice
to the soisante-somethings and bulb included like a boresome disaggregate
if if if
if if if & a plantinaradiant poke
Loud, as is uncommon in this nowhere
The sky, half-fire, half-smoke,
Stops, but continues as a shining wall.
Outside, they who never were,
Loud, unthought nonexistents,
Reaggrivated by the nothing.
Stupid one, your wall is all of this.
Sometimes duende, co- or no leafs me pillarless.
cat or crater or
pans to put a burnt pan on but
I don’t putt
& passion is not
but rather & absently
ineffectual downpour joy born as
plastic & completely forgotten
poets aspire to
yesterday’s renewal notice
cream-puff for the tradictorie’s dumb bell
kunga unga bungo I
with this difference:
dormed clacked retreads
plotz the crucked wall-eyes
Politics said to Art: Shut up fool
Art said to Politics: You are simple sand only I can turn to glass.
Politics said to Art: No money for N.E.A., or n.e.body else either
Art said to Politics: 411 is a joke
Politics: call 911
Art: yer mean
Politics: yer me
Art: If the land is to un-refrie this lance of thoughts, close, closed, & come open, should when it can’t not kill like money is a pace inside that pitbull-portico, pusshead.
Politics: A replacing sterility seems to seep from your lapdog sincerity, poethead.
Art: Do you think about me when you’re at work?
Politics: Not even a little
Art: I’m ‘ona kick you
Politics: with what?
Art: a minimal axiomatic principle
Politics: ooooh doggie, fckrs gonna kick me with a axiomatic principle. a minimal one. oooh i’m scared now. huh huh. oooo what’ll i do. axiomatic principle. snort.
Politics: ow godamnit, that was my mindnumbing codification, come here you
Art: uh uh
Politics: get back here you little
Art: uh uhhh
Politics: I’m gonna flatten yr school-headed brat frackin little crack-knit blister-snitt’
Art: gotta catch me first
Politics: where’d you go
Art: ain’t tellin
Politics: olly olly oxen freeeeee
Politics: come on out now
Art: now why would i do that?
Politics:aw shucks alrite, tell ya what i’ll give ya nice grant, come on here we can talk, you’ve heard a what they call a trust, we can get you a niiiiiccccce big one, you’re gonna like it
Politics: o yes, with a view
Art: high up? you know i like to get high. up.
Politics: high as you like sweetie
Art: I don’t think you should be calling me sweetie, what will my sister Truth think
Politics: don’t you worry about Truth, she’s taken good care of
Art: did she get a grant too
Politics: you might say that, a permanent one
Politics: ow goddamnit
Art: can I have my grant now
Politics: why sure, just come out here where I can see ya
Art: no, i want you to leave it in a brown paper bag behind the tree in the park. you know, like in the sitcoms
Politics: stand up and take your grant like a man
Art: uh uh
Politics: how are you gonna teach me to be an art too if you stay hid like that
Art: really. . . you wanna be like me
Politics: yes i really really do
Art: then why you always lie about everything
Politics: I was tryin to make, whatchamacallit, fiction
Politics: you want that grant or what
Art: can I go talk to Law first
Politics: oooo absolutely, I think that’s a great idea . . .
Politics: ow you little, wait’ll i get
Art: gotta catch me first
First presented at Georgetown University for a reading and seminar with Amiri Baraka, October 2005 . Baraka donated the title of the seminar, “Art & Politics: An Overview.”
some say the cow jumped over the moon
however it is fairly clear that this is not the case
The trusted, incohate
talks to them
tells the family
the soldier they raised
should not be opened.
Or in Gates
The trusted, dumb falcon-brain
half-bested by A Q a beef
chilada’s smarter than
his cute doom– the yes
cuddles up w/ the crime, a
sly, deathly inkling, we grow
stupid, we grow the various
lacks– lack of Elvis Presley,
the fanged serpent, a
micrological oblivion’s be-
deviled betterment beside
the still-life cousins, modernisme
et coco puffs, shampooing
our lace greed, & come in is in a
lattice internal, very semi-marxist, like
He’s a pepperspray all hairy
Dips of the filth bleat them, go
over-boink, like a lariat
or a test– they fill them, those
nut-brained beamers, & then
they run the light right out–
we’ve packed for a pleading, lean, lost
w/ Snoopy, & that bird.
“Junior, stop making that face at the chickens.”
I am not of muck
rather the made of
a percentage’s neck monk
the grave, ghost, je me tourne
le monsrte technologique
sur l’ange de la to-come
in quiet accordians of vanguard transvaluation
the blue penguin speaks
the blue penguin
cuts up his little pink passport with a little pink boxcutter
he thinks you’re weird
the married overcoming of incompetent underbecoming
soothes the bio-mist
and superstructed morse-like lemon amor fati proviso
pilled like love
pilled with love
Don’t not dance beside the unburnt sill, whilst burning–
It is not for bricks
this dubious limit
has some raconteurlike fossil collectors & canards people the placebo-sized song of
She’s a governement employee.
She has lice.
How are you?
signed inside a kind of light unreason or maybe syncopating mist tout à fait
et seeked or blue
same but very quick
the recent or something, we’re all yelled
interestin Monday, world’s
act in hung and light hung chariot’s and
their fat goners, woops l
experts are bedded and sassy, half-quilt loonberries
a string o’ guck, more half-needle than half Carnegie, built
libelous twin bullshit hugging republican cocks
all aligned, all impaired, all exact
as the rasping perilous numbing
lack across their willing bulbs, a
rent ain’t a wetness, and a fine figure of $500 or 30
days well that’s not facts (cane sugar) that’s value (lyric intensity)
& just as the information trainer asks everybody what kind of cake they like
Poets are very wascally folks
Amy Wright: Since the release of Deed from the University of Iowa Press, you’ve been asked to teach a semester there. What do you think poets can teach other poets about poetry?
Rod Smith: Well it’s tough to say. Poets are very wascally folks, at least the good ones tend to be. But it’s also true that the large part of what I know I’ve learned from other poets. The culture of an institution can have a big impact on this. It’s much easier for faculty to be useful, supportive, open to their students when they feel supported by their department and by the University or College generally. In my experience this varies wildly. A few bad administrators can poison a department. A few good ones can make it possible for first rate work to occur.
That aside, my basic teaching philosophy is to seek first to understand. To see what people are fired by and to encourage that, adding new information/approaches where I can.
Wright: A number of writers think of their books as one body. How do you think of Deed in relation to your writing thus far? Can you contextualize the ambition or challenge or resulting education of this work?
Smith: Sometimes I think of the work in Deed as my best yet, other times it seems a radical departure from my previous books, and then other times it seems to me a bit conservative stylistically. I suspect that all of those takes are true, in their way. And all of them are colored by the long poem “The Good House,” which constitutes half the book. That piece feels good, feels like “I pulled it off” in the sense that it stays alive for me when I look at it again, or read from it for an audience. That’s the test.
Wright: Richard Caddell, in his introdcution to the Complete Bunting, quotes his core statement on poetry, published in 1966, in which he says, “Poetry, like music, is to be heard…Reading in silence is the source of half the misconceptions that have caused the public to distrust poetry.” As author of Music or Honesty and the poetry cd Fear the Sky, how do you respond to his statement—what is the relationship between aural and textual language?
Smith: The art critic Dave Hickey was one of those responsible for the still ongoing conversation attempting to restore “beauty” as a category of critical response in American and European art circles. Art critics weren’t much concerned with beauty until he began writing about it in the nineties. His essential take is that one responds to something beautiful in a visceral manner—it’s quote precognitive unquote. Elaine Scary has also written about this. I once asked Hickey about the beautiful relative to literature and he replied unhesitatingly “it resides in the phonotext” and gave the example of Beckett.
I like this concept of the phonotext because although I agree with Bunting re the importance of sound I’m not sure a practiced writer or reader of poetry has to be moving their mouth—Bunting seems to be arguing for a correct way of experiencing poetry. There is no correct way, there are many ways. So, to say “it resides in the phonotext” is one way of saying that if a certain complexity, a certain awareness, of sound is achieved then that will remain there whether performed aloud or encountered on the page or online etc.
The title Music or Honesty is meant to allow a variety of readings, the “or” being a key term. Is it a choice? Does the artifice of music elide or obscure one’s intent/one’s experience of a poem, or rather, is the music the honesty that can be found in literature. I rather think it’s both. This would follow the Derrida of Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference, etc. “Undecidability” like they say. But we’re not talking about philosophy we’re talking about art. & more specifically poetry. In poetry that undecidability can be used to create tension—that tension which Bunting I think was referencing when he insisted on the viscerality of the spoken or performed — his preferred metaphor was the dance. I would emphasize the cognitive, which is to say the internal, as well as the external, performative aspect. That internal experience also & just as visceral. One thinks with the ear.
Wright: That is well put. I think of the performance artist Cecilia Vicuña’s aesthetic in which the body is an instrument of thought. Aurality manifests poetry’s livingness. The line contains, as Olson says, the breath.
I am curious if you see prosody entering this construct. How do you think of training of the ear?
Smith: Ted Berrigan says somewhere that there’s a little man in the back of your head doing the counting. Listening to recordings of him it seems quite true, he had a strong sense of the pulse of the line, and of course the metric line of for example Shakespeare or Milton is not at all regular. There’s a good bit of hocus pocus going on in scansion to make those works fit the preordained patterns. That said there’s no doubt of the importance of rhythm. Berrigan’s reading of the Sonnets which is online at Penn Sound beautifully demonstrates how rhythmic supposed free verse can and perhaps should be. Tom Raworth’s another powerfully rhythmic poet that absolutely must be heard.
Hearing a lot of poets read has been key, for me, in ‘training the ear.’ I’ve been running reading series in one place or another every year since 1988 and have learned as much or more about poetry from that than anything. The differences are as interesting as the similarities, one almost wants to question whether the following list should be considered to be writing in the same language: Charles Bernstein, John Cage, Robert Creeley, Kevin Davies, Heather Fuller, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Gizzi, Lyn Hejinian, Susan Howe, P. Inman, Lisa Jarnot, Anne Lauterbach, Alice Notley, George Oppen, Leslie Scalapino, John Weiners. Every poet on that list has a very individual approach to the movement of the line. So one takes it all in, one imitates or reacts against, but eventually and I think often very quickly a highly individual approach emerges.
I’m also interested in the degree to which these differences manifest on the page. The rather famous Creeley ‘mistake’ — his ‘cut line’ coming from his reading of Williams before he had ever heard Williams read—a visual cue mistaken for an aural cue led to a totally terrific way of reading a poem. There’s a way in which Olson’s ‘breath’ is more apparent on the page than in his readings. Much of Susan Howe is also like that I think. It’s great to get the book and read along while someone’s performing. It’s a very quick way into the work.
So, in the end I guess I’m saying that it’s highly intuitive, this question of the line’s movement, but also a matter of, literally, information. The information one gleans from hearing other poets read, & one then picks, either carefully or spontaneously, from all the available articulations what is right for one’s own sensibility generally, as well as for the particular poem at hand.
Wright: Your description of performing a text is very collaborative. The reader/writer relationship changes when the author performs the text at a reading. How does that change the reader’s role at a reading? It sounds like you think of it as still a matter of choices—that the author is neither more or less than another reader. Can you respond to that?
Smith: Well, one’s relation to a written text is more contingent. As a writer one is also, as a reader, a re-writer. Continually underlining, picking out vocabulary, twisting concepts in relation to other reading/writing etc. The Poetry Reading on the other hand is or at least seems less available to re-conceptualize in the moment although I think of Jackson Mac Low’s practice at the reading series at the Ear Inn. For years he would come to readings with his notebook and ‘write through’ the reading, using the vocabulary of the poet reading. There’s a piece of his that was in Sulfur quite some time ago where I recognized the first few stanzas as being words, bits of phrases, whole lines, from my reading at the Ear.
Mainly I would say that the poetry reading offers a unique experience of the writers’ hearing of their own text. I wouldn’t say that someone else’s hearing would be ‘less correct’ necessarily. I think the analogies to music here are quite strong.
Also, Is it just me, or do you always hear that Muppets song when you come across the word phenomenological?
Wright: That’s just you, but when I hear noumena I think of Three Musketeers bars.
I also think the music analogies are very present, but we need to synchronize our definitions. What do you mean by contingent? And then—what makes the written text more contingent than the performed?
Smith: What I mean by contingent is “it could be otherwise.” It’s not that the written or performed is automatically more contingent but more a matter of the way these things are generally done. The poetry reading is a person facing an audience saying what they’ve come to say. Not particularly ‘contingent’ from the audience’s point of view, though Cage always talked of the specific individuality of each audience member’s experience. No person ever hears the same music from a Buddhist point of view. It can also be highly contingent for the reader. I don’t tend to read the same things the same way. A piece of mine called “Snips” is literally that. Bits. One-liners. Extracts from other poems. Overheard or stolen lines. Sometimes involving a particular Woody Guthrie song. It’s dedicated to Steve Lacy and meant to have some of the improvisatory feel of his solo saprano saxophone recordings. The contingent aspect has a lot to do with the ordering which approaches the random, but also the pacing, it speeds up, slows down, runs, stumbles, etc. So my experience is certainly one of contingency. I often literally don’t know what I’ll do next while I’m doing it. For the audience however, they only get what I’m doing, they may pick up on the energy of quick choices being made but they’re not aware of what I didn’t do that I might have. Another word which conveys as well or perhaps better what I’m getting at here is gestural. I think of a lot of New York School writing as gestural, and of course Abstract Expressionism, jazz and other improvisatory musics, etc. That mode is something I greatly value.
To return to this question of reading aloud vs reading the text and the different experiences there. One might (contingently) say that the gestural is what defines the literary. A text that is valued for other than its quantifiable meaning is necessarily partaking of a gestural, contingent motion. Here one could talk about context(s)—why Wittgenstein seems at times poetry, or a newspaper headline placed elsewhere becomes poetry, I’ve used vocabulary from a Bell Optics research bibliography in several poems, this sort of re-moving. . . Also just to mention that of course the performance itself is only one aspect of the poetry reading, the socializing before and after, the reading in the conversation after a reading is also very important.
Wright: How do you think of deception in relation to poetry?
Smith: O, I couldn’t say. That would be giving too little away.
Rod Smith, who was born in Gallipolis, Ohio in 1962, is an American poet, editor and publisher. He grew up in Northern Virginia and moved to Washington, DC in 1987. Smith has authored several collections of poetry, including In Memory of My Theories, Protective Immediacy, and Music or Honesty. He has taught creative writing at George Mason University where he is finishing his MFA. Smith currently teaches Cultural Studies at Towson University, and was a visiting writer at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the Spring of 2010.
Publishing and the DC poetry community
In 1984, along with Wayne Kline, Rod Smith began the journal Aerial Magazine, a poetry magazine devoted to avant-garde and experimental writing. Soon after, Smith began publishing books under the name EDGE Books; EDGE takes its name from the first book of poems by American poet Bruce Andrews. Smith published the first Edge Book in 1989.
After Rod Smith moved to Washington, DC in 1987, he became part of the DC poetry community which included the writers Tina Darragh, Lynne Dreyer, P. Inman, Doug Lang, Joan Retallack, Phyllis Rosenzweig, and others. This group expanded over the years to include such writers as Leslie Bumstead, Jean Donnelly, Buck Downs, Cathy Eisenhower, Heather Fuller, Mark McMorris, Carol Mirakove, Maureen Thorson, Ryan Walker, Mel Nichols, Tom Orange, and Mark Wallace.
During the 1980s Smith began intense self-study in poetry and poetics, particularly Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, and George Oppen. He met John Cage in Rockville, Maryland in 1987 and saw him regularly, playing chess (usually losing), in Washington and New York until Cage’s death in 1992.
Smith’s own poetry is a testament to this intense self-study, for it is written, as Lisa Jarnot writes, “With the sweeping vision of Whitman, the noun-play of Gertrude Stein, and the slant political commentary of the New York School”. In fact, it demonstrates a lineage spanning through most of the American ‘experimental’ poetic explorations of 20th Century, from that of the Objectivists (such as George Oppen, Charles Reznikoff or Louis Zukofsky) to the NY School (Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler) to Black Mountain or Beat Generation poets (such as Ferlinghetti—who inspired one of Smith’s first published poems in the Baltimore Sun in 1982) to his more recent associations and friendships with many of the original Language poets including Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, Carla Harryman, and Barrett Watten. Smith’s work also emerges from visual artistic works, theory, politics, and the writings, musical and other works of John Cage.
Given his interests and engagements with other writers, it is not unsurprising that Smith managed Bick’s Books from 1989 to 1992 and since 1993 has managed Bridge Street Books in Washington. While at Bick’s and as a founding curator with Buck Downs, Joe Ross, and Sylvana Straw of the DCAC “In Your Ear” series he organized readings for Charles Bernstein, Cage, Kevin Davies, Carolyn Forche, Bob Perelman, Tom Raworth, Leslie Scalapino, Diane Ward, and others.
The many readers at Bridge Street since 1993 have included Bruce Andrews, Rae Armantrout, Anselm Berrigan, Lee Ann Brown, Norma Cole, Tim Davis, Peter Gizzi, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Lisa Jarnot, Melanie Neilson, Alice Notley, Lisa Robertson, Jennifer K Dick, David Shapiro, Juliana Spahr, Edwin Torres, and Rosmarie Waldrop.
* Deed, (Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2007)
* Fear the Sky, (narrow house, 2005)
* Music or Honesty, (New York: Roof Books, 2003).
* Poèmes de l’araignée, (Bordeaux, France: Un bureau sur l’atlantique, 2003).
* The Good House (New York: Spectacular Books, 2001)
* The New Mannerist Tricycle – with Lisa Jarnot & Bill Luoma (Philadelphia: Beautiful Swimmer, 2000)
* Protective Immediacy (New York: Roof, 1999)
* The Lack (love poems, targets, flags…) (Elmwood, CT.: Abacus, 1997).
* In Memory of My Theories (Oakland: O Books, 1996)
* A Grammar Manikan, Object 5: featuring Rod Smith, (New York, NY: Object, 1995).
* The Boy Poems, (Washington, DC: Buck Downs Books, 1994).
is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Austin Peay State University. She earned her Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the University of Denver in 2006. She is the author of There are no new ways to kill a man (Apostrophe Books, 2009), additional publications include American Letters & Commentary, Ribot 6, New Millenium Writing, and Quarterly West.