From Publishers Weekly
After 17 collections--including two previous new and selecteds--one would expect the indefatigable Smith to settle down some, but not so. Proceeding chronologically (which here means back-to-front), one finds that a formal elegance and a maritime musical panache akin to early Lowell mark Smith's early work most clearly, whether meditating on oyster boats where "the currents carried/ cloisters of murk,/ miracles that bloom/ luminous and unseen, sweet things to be/ brought up, bejeweled, culled from husks" or simply capturing "the big-jawed Bluefish, ravenous, sleek muscle slamming,/ convoys rank after rank, wheeling through flume and flute of blood." Poems rooted to the South show a delighted attention to its quirks and an interest in familial progressions. When Smith, however, abandons this often patriarchal legacy and opts for a more confessional tone, his music begins to unravel, giving way to prosaic speech ("It/ might help to say how in my head/ she slumps helplessly, my arms/ don't know what to do with her") and bathetic doggerel ("and your voice goes/ spattering against my fingers like ache's shredding/ that couldn't be held back any longer"). Fortunately, "The Holy Mother of Connecticut Avenue" kicks off the book with a mortal vengeance--"death's hot shit piled up around us, a stinking smoke/ coiled like BO out of skinless wires, on floorboards licked,/ as if all we wanted was flame-touched at last"--and the wick catches anew. While not the major achievement a third try at a new and selected might suggest, there is enough energy here to merit a look. (Apr.)
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