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January 4, 2019 / barton smock

{ reviews, current, Ghost Arson }

reviews for Ghost Arson:

review by Dd. Spungin

Experiencing Barton Smock’s poetry is similar to living in a foreign country long enough to begin to understand the language.

Smock’s language is always intriguing, often foreign, more often brilliant in its ability to put images and concepts in the reader’s unsuspecting mind.

Certain poems/passages all but announce their meanings, as this from Gameshow Fatalities:

“see one of my children worrying less about suicide
and more about where it should happen. see: tub. see: easier
for a mother to clean.”

And some slide an idea into your consciousness such as this from Untitled:

is a doll
a menu, memorizing
a license plate
and doll
the first
eating disorder
in space”

Smock can shock, as well. Here, from Gestural Transportation, this standout stanza:

“the bread crumbs were eaten not by birds but by a
starving boy with a lost voice who’d wandered from his
home in a delirium brought on by a toothache. also,
Hansel & Gretel were two rich kids who killed someone’s

The ethereal makes an appearance in the poem, Snow:

“say even god / would leave / this church
to step on the bones of a star”

Smock uses familiar subjects in much of his poetry: parents, siblings, children, but they are traveling in places that always surprise and make the reader stretch; it is a stretch most worthy of the effort.

To read these poems is a journey into a new art, and a privilege for the reader.


review by George Salis

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.


Ghost Arson (Kung Fu Treachery Press 2018)

have copies, on my person, now.

if you’ve read it or skimmed it or rewritten it…say something somewhere.

if interested in reviewing, contact me at

book is 15.00 / orders can be made via paypal to or by using link:


*be sure to include your address in the notes field
**all copies will be signed

or one can send a check to:

Barton Smock
5155 Hatfield Drive
Columbus, OH 43232

on amazon:

at barnes & noble:
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One Comment

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  1. barton smock / Jan 7 2019 1:03 pm

    Reblogged this on kingsoftrain.

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