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December 17, 2018 / barton smock

{ review by George Salis of Barton Smock’s -Ghost Arson- }

review by George Salis of Barton Smock’s Ghost Arson:

It seems to me that a lot of modern poetry is not poetry, but simply non-fiction with line breaks, so it’s refreshing to read modern poetry from an actual poet. As he first demonstrated with infant*cinema, Smock is conscious of language, of the power of a few words, or few words, and his mostly minimalist poems have the ability to evoke endless dreamscapes. The infinite from the finite, another paradox from paradoxical poems, poems that are like alternate or anti-paracosms. For example, here is one titled “Mooon.”

moan, fossil. how do my feet look in my mother’s belly?
my heart is a pink flame / is my father’s / fingernail.
father calls me antler. I don’t know this yet. I will be

by many hands.

By simply including an extra ‘o’ in the word ‘moon,’ elongating what Sir Richard Burton called the “corpse upon the road of night,” Smock conjures a wolf’s howl, a cow’s lament, creatures of childhood’s imagination and myth. And then we are given the juxtaposition, the amalgamation of vestigial past and fetal future and beyond, to the (moon) shot of doctors? adulators? murderers? An unborn heart metamorphosing from flame to fingernail, or existing as both simultaneously, like Schrödinger’s cat, until postnatal wave collapse. The phrase “father calls me antler” tells a story in and of itself, a mysterious nickname/endearment/joke/snide….

Considering Ghost Arson as a collection, there are obsessions or at least repetitions: owls, milk, ghosts, etc. The pinnacle obsession being god in all forms and personalities (“you picture god as a toddler studying a map” or “the airway of a god with a tail”), the word itself repeated nearly to the point of semantic satiation, a term coined by Leon Jakobovits James, who also suggested that the phenomenon could be employed to ameliorate phobias. Consciously or not, perhaps Smock is attempting to exorcise a theophobia. Conversely, the recurrence could be a mantra reverberating across poems.

Some of my favorite images include:
“step on the bones of a star”
“a snake made of milk”
“ear-shaped mirrors”
“spacesuits for stillborns”
“the owl with hands”

Surreal and soft-spoken, to enjoy Smock’s work one must learn to take pleasure in balancing on the fringe of the unknown and admiring the abyssal veil that stretches before you with scintillations that echo fallen stars. Read him and dream.


Reviewer George Salis is a Swiss-American writer. He is the recipient of the Sullivan Award for Fiction, the Ann Morris Prize for Fiction, and the Davidson Award for Integrity in Journalism. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, The Missing Slate, CultureCult Magazine, NILVX: A Book of Magic, Quail Bell Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Atticus Review and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil appeared in Skeptic. He is the author of the novel Sea Above, Sun Below. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland.



Ghost Arson
poems by Barton Smock
Kung Fu Treachery Press, 2018


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Barton Smock
5155 Hatfield Drive
Columbus, OH 43232
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**all copies will be signed


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