EILEEN TABIOS Engages
I Live in a Hut by S.E. Smith
(Cleveland State University Poetry Center, Cleveland, OH, 2012)
There’s a certain poet out there who’s grown big enough to warrant a publicity spokesperson and charges $20,000 for appearances. While I don’t begrudge his economics—all poets should have them and higher!—and while I’ve enjoyed many of his poems, he nevertheless should read S.E. Smith, specifically her book I Live in a Hut. For Smith’s poems, while possessing too the marvelous drollness that’s allowed the other poet to make a career out of poetry with a liveable wage, are imbued with a thoughtfulness that would never make a reader characterize them as shallow.
For example, we need not go longer than the beginnings of several poems (though of course we should read beyond the beginnings to the entirety of these highly pleasurable poems) to sense the presence of a lively intelligence, to wit, from the sharply-titled “Manifest Destinyland”:
My eternal flame is more eternal than yours. My bivouac is more permanent than your eternal flame. At night, when your soldiers are praying ceaselessly for less rain and more underwear, my soldiers make underwear out of rain.
That excerpt also reminds me of guerilla warfare which, at its most effective, would come to enhance the appeal of drone-based wars by the other side's armchair generals and politicians fearful of what could happen with on-land combat.
Anyway, there’s a vibrancy to Smith’s language—she doesn’t tell it straight but the way she tells it doesn’t get mired in obscurity either, to wit, from “Discourse Against the Reluctant Lover”:
Friend, we are not the deposed presidents
of a doomed jungle nation and there is no need
to salt your handkerchief so readily.
Oh, okay, sometimes she tells it straight. But the result is also thoughtful even as it makes us laugh, to wit, from “Un Peu”:
I still don’t understand why the French aren’t fat.
Let them get fat. The French. Let them try to
sadly smoke in postures of disregard and regret
as a statue now that they are fat. Maybe now
and then a French gentleman will scorch his pants
while he irons them in his boxers remembering
the coy girl at the seaside town that summer
and how she was superlative at wicked endearments
now that she is fat.
Smith’s imaginative, quick-silver language is a distinct pleasure, as is her wisdom. Check how she spins a new riff off of the superstition that one should hide too much happiness from the gods (not that she uses the g-reference) lest the gods’ human imperfections like jealousy strip away the sources of joy; from “Happiness”:
I know a little
about teeth and what happens to them
around a surfeit of candies, but that’s
about it. It can be any type of candy, as long
as there’s a lot of it. And this is what happens:
light lurches around the lawn like a maiden wasted
by too much pastoral goodness, heavy is her harp
which she has lugged along for company.
But such music! Such ungainly sweetness!
Muchness becomes moreness, at which point
her friends show up, a gang of bilious shepherds
who toss her amongst themselves when they get mean.
It becomes clear that you must wait until they fall asleep
before attempting to make your exit, and by this point
your teeth have already begun to leave you,
so impatient are they.
Always, there’s this deadpan humor—from “Islands,”:
I know nothing about them.
I have never been on one
except this one.
But I find it exciting, what you do
with the pig.
Why the title of the collection? There are hints throughout the book that I might summarize into a feeling that through the poems I’m looking at the brain of someone who’s always or often at a distance from her environment; she’s too intent inspecting the landscape to be part of the landscape. A person(a) like that may, I imagine, find much relief in being able to scuttle back to some private hut—“hut,” which is to say, not a castle, not a mansion, not an apartment but something smaller so that the minimal scale allows her eyes and brain relief from inspecting too many things.
Fortunately, this person(a) writes poems from her varied inspections … creating joy for readers who can only be grateful. May she also—if she wants them—end up with a publicity spokesperson one day and be able to charge at least $20,000 per appearance.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work. I FORGOT LIGHT BURNS received a review by Zvi A. Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene; by Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer Grady Harp over HERE; and by Allen Bramhall in Tributary. Her experimental biography AGAINST MISANTHROPY: A LIFE IN POETRY received a review by Tom Hibbard in The Halo-Halo Review, Allen Bramhall in Mandala Web and Chris Mansel in The Daily Art Source. SUN STIGMATA also received a review by Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field. Recent releases are the e-chap DUENDE IN THE ALLEYS as well as INVENT(ST)ORY which is her second “Selected Poems" project; while her first Selected THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, INVEN(ST)ORY focuses on the list or catalog poem form. A key poem in INVENT(ST)ORY was reviewed by John Bloomberg-Rissman in The Halo-Halo Review, and the book itself was reviewed by Chris Mansel in The Daily Art Source and Allen Bramhall in Mandala Web. More information at http://eileenrtabios.com