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October 8, 2021 / barton smock

(recent: placed, said, offered

toward the work of others -


through a small ghost
poems, Chelsea Dingman
The University of Georgia Press, 2020

Chelsea Dingman is a poet who makes you feel as if you’ve entered the dream a little early. Otherness is something that happens to others, and pain hurts in two places at once. In through a small ghost, it is this meditative displacement that allows the work to both worship and curse the prolonged destiny of its sudden and devastating inheritance. Be it a projected disappearance or a vanishing root, Dingman identifies first the caller of the form that keeps us from so many shapes, and then the unreal form itself. As any breathing in this held verse might poke a hole in the haunting and send a smoke ring to show the fog how its wheels have come off, the poems keep their witness on the made from and made by, achieving not only something to be seen, but also something protected from watching. And in this protection are many spiritually assertive mercies, elegant and ruinous, gifts from reversal of which the most healing might be that when a thing goes, loss doesn’t always get there first.


Toxicon And Arachne
poems, Joyelle McSweeney
Nightboat Books, 2020

Of course, being a weak writer, I want to say rare. I want to say rare in as few words as possible in the direction of Joyelle McSweeney’s Toxicon And Arachne. Somewhere two toothaches are perhaps reunited. Somewhere one is unpinned from the world while feeling in the dark for a donkey born without a tail. I also want to say playful, but no. Sadness loses all its money to sorrow and there is a jovial genius to the trauma of wordplay. I think what McSweeney does is done with what I’ll call, in my lack, the endangered available. Mouth of a gift hearse. Erasure’s only prediction. From such given, McSweeney recreates addendum without precedent. Think of what one hasn’t read, that is being written, and how briefly it will exist unwitnessed. And how fast the work of de-witness. And how suddenly we’re having the dream that just recently we lied about having. I love this work for its slowness, for the uninfluenced offhand of its disruptive healing. Here is a line from McSweeney’s poem PT Cruiser: ‘That’s like, harmonic. Monstrous.’ I am injected, I guess, to vaccinate the new you. Loss has two syllables: loss, comma, loss. The verse of Toxicon and Arachne lives in the present and in the present it took.


essays – Alina Stefanescu
INCH, issue 44
Bull City Press (2020)

The writer Alina Stefanescu is a student of curious worry, loyal to irreverence and a giver of passage and path. These essays, on sight, put one in the middle of understanding, where one knows perhaps how to read, but not yet how to re-read. As a child, I heard of a child who stopped playing hide-and-seek because they would forget to hide. I heard this from a child distracted by god. None of this is true, but it could be. Ribald is a work that continues to begin, that opens the body might it out what’s been baked into, that offers the unexpected as a cure to prophecy, that misplaces to protect.


poems, Tom Snarsky
Ornithopter Press, 2021

Oh, here we are. So far from our own writing. Here, again, thinking there is little left beyond yesterday's afterglow, beneath tomorrow's aftermath. I always believe I'm done with it, of course. And then, oh. Here. We. Are. Tipsy, and weeks into listening to a soundtrack no one wrote for a nightlight while opening and re-opening Tom Snarsky's collection Light-Up Swan. And there is hope in the hope that fate might finally volunteer. That going missing will go missing not as ordered by absence but instead as a goodwill gesture given to a presence that needs nothing in return yet desires a return on our nothing. And is it ours? I don't know. What I can speak to is how quickly this reflection of mine reappeared but only because it believed it had vanished. I'm here for that kind of belief, for the kind of work that starts sometimes, as Snarsky does, with the line This poem happens in an actual lake. I'm here to feel...far. Something factual: The first poem here is called The Star-Field Paintings and it is very beautiful and hard to move on, or to be away, from. How are there poems after it? There might not be, yet I could speak on them, and have been, and haven't heard a thing for weeks.  


soft-focus slaughterhouse
poems, Dylan Krieger
11:11 Press, 2021

With a punk patience for the previously prophetic, poet Dylan Krieger, in soft-focus slaughterhouse, predicts with the grey comedy of deep presence what pain is losing to our collectively photographic memory of being invasively untouched. This is a verse the closes distance with the body actual, a verse that does not suffer suffering, a verse somewhat for the uncrucified astronaut indebted to imagery but really and wholly for those who can remain nostalgic for prognosis while knowing how sick it is to leave one’s affliction to another. This is a poetry of essential saying, of wordplay and wordwork, and language needs to catch up.


Poetry Against All
a diary
Johannes Göransson
Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2020

I am no expert and have little idea what to say about impossible books. Johannes Göransson’s Poetry Against All is one such book. Is many such books. Little idea does not mean I can be quiet. What is impossible? A safe child. A coroner who disappears to plan simple kidnappings for the elaborately still. I continue. I stop. Göransson keeps this diary alive. Fossil porn. A more exact resurfacing. Some things poke through; holes in movies, a mask thrown from a moving dream, a photograph taken by a hand. I don’t know how this draws, but know I am drawn. But am also, surrounded. Held and carried. I might have it backward. Some prenatal eternity, some austere intercourse, some uprooted sickness ghosted by certain immunities unique to the tourist’s stunt double. I have only recently forgotten how to write. If I am nostalgic, let me be so in the center of this secret as someone specifically somewhere who can’t live on resurrection alone but longs to witness a fire being set on fire. Gone, then here.


The Wishbone Dress
poems, Cassandra J. Bruner
Bull City Press, 2019

I worry sometimes that I have been invisibly abandoned. That a context left unsaid has given its art to a museum obsessed with displaying beginnings. Beginnings only. And then, but then, there is work devoid of panic, work unlike, work with words not so much chosen but words more revealed, work that enters the dead and encodes the universal to amplify the specific, work that with its subtle harmony of discovery sings as to horn a ghost a backbone and then lures that ghost into the modified regions of beauty and transitional creation, work that asks existence for the emergency past imposed on another’s sudden body, that asks of our being here what violence we interrupted, work that is only named The Wishbone Dress, and is called into sound by Cassandra J. Bruner. Work I wish you to read, and in the reading, be unleft.


toward film -

No matter how in-your-face hurt can be, intimacy doesn’t always get its close-up, and it’s in this unmothered proximity that David Gutnik’s Materna finds the distance to operate. Whether it’s the muscle amnesia of Kate Lyn Sheil’s performace, the gutted mimicry of Jade Eshete’s, the clocked-out but fleshed-in nowness of Lindsay Burdge’s, or the recreated absence that Assol Abdullina motions to from afar, all make of pain a figure fussing over a puzzle abandoned by image.   


Not so much fragmented as multiplied, Grear Patterson's film Giants Being Lonely is an anti-dream of an answer to the delicate interrogations that plague youth with finality. If you touch a baseball, you share a hand. If you speak, it's to more visibly miss being yelled at. The two central performances by Ben Irving and Jack Irving are softly anxious and run into each other tenderly enough that their injuries trade places without, or perhaps before, being hurt. There are no hard tells here. Dinner scenes are an empty win, a baseball field is an orphanage of light, and first dates are halved by the same appetite. While there is something magically small about its final shot, this film isn't really about sticking the landing, but about taking root.     


Robert Machoian's The Killing of Two Lovers captures the vastness of being lived in and knows to leave unnamed that thing that crawls toward the skin with its history of being chosen last and sent first. Clayne Crawford is upfront about his character's distance, and has something so informed physically coursing through his and another's person that even pain would need a moment to look away. Sepideh Moafi and Chris Coy, with Crawford, also bring their bodies into moments that need possessed, and make an already alien gut check of a film into something distilled and movingly abducted.


Danny Madden’s Beast Beast is a film of spaces both dedicated and random, and of a time not sure if it’s escaping or being told to leave. Its DIY beginnings resist plot but then succumb, and if its more local parts seem an ill fit for the smallness of its universal body, it does well in the wounds of opera as it interrogates exhibition with display and asks performance whether the lines have been said wrong or were they just given to the wrong person. While Will Madden gives his character just enough nothing to own, Shirley Chen and Jose Angeles come separately from another movie that becomes this movie and they take root in that brief claim.  


Psychologically patient, Kourosh Ahari’s The Night is a knockout of a horror film that follows a couple and their child long enough that something behind us begins to live with the guilt of being temporary. With the dual portals of imagery and language, the performances by Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Jafarian go from ghost to ghost, barrier to obstacle, knowing that a shallow grave is deeper than a jump scare and that one eye is never surprised there’s a second. 


Wild Indian, as steered by director Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., is an injured map of a movie where scars mark themselves more by what looks for them than by what finds them. All the performers here understand to sound out the misspellings rather than say outright what might lead the viewer too correctly. Michael Greyeyes makes central to their character's gait an overlong suddenness that is simultaneously melancholy and terrifying, while Chaske Spencer uses eye and skin to keep from losing the old now of wound to the new now of the invisibly healed. Helluva movie, and it lasts the entire film.


recent places - 


poetry at sangam


available work -

[ untouched in the capital of soon ]
poems, Barton Smock, 2021
187 pages

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One Comment

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  1. barton smock / Nov 10 2021 1:41 pm

    Reblogged this on kingsoftrain.

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