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The Wick Of Memory by Dave Smith

I’ve taken my time writing this review because I felt that this is the book that spoke to me the most. Dave Smith has a variety of poems here, some colloquial, a couple dream-quests, and a couple parables referencing animals; needless to say, I really enjoyed them. I prefer a little narration in my poetry and Smith gives me that. I’ll talk a little about some of my favorite poems so you can get a feel for them.

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A Dream of Poe In New York.

“Worked over here, I’m screwed.

I leave the bar, walk, a man

in need of a woman. She who’s

what I deserve is no bargain.

Losing her smell’s the problem.

Her light touch turns greasy.

The street glistens like phlegm.

Then rain’s spurt plummeting.”

A Dream of Poe in New York gets on my to mention list because it’s about as gritty as poetry gets, it’s ugly and almost unforgiving. I really appreciate Smith’s brutally honest portrayal of the realities of this narrative, the way he picks up on the seemingly small details and flushes them out to fruition. A Dream exemplifies Smith’s ability to take off the gloves and throw some real punches.

The Shark in the Rafters

“…Because, they watch the terrible

jaws jammed open again, the hook

spooning out the man’s leg-stump,

blue-sluice flowing below them

into the minnow seeded water,

each surprised to feel risen

inside a finger’s forbidden

touch: this hide is all

between them and sun’s boil.

To open it at last, one

climbs with knife, cheered

by the girls whose thighs burn…”

The Shark in the Rafters is another one of my favorites. You can read Smith’s penchant for an almost gore, but it’s always justified, never superfluous. He creates a lot of tension with these poems, perhaps embodying the tension between all animals and human in the inevitable conflict but he always finds something redeeming, something worth knowing.

Lastly, my favorite poem this semester, Red Dog. This is the narrative of a man’s dog and Smith really refines his voice, to give it some real compassion, some real emotion, subtle, but powerful. Here are some of the most powerful lines.

Red Dog

“We bought you for our son. Half—grown

Already your bag of skin sagged everywhere,”

“You

mostly don’t expect to find the lost—and yet,

hopefully, I’d shout, then sleep, then shout. Gone.

You’d wait. You’d creep like sun across the lawn.”

“You slowed.

Dirt-bedded, you had new smell. Bones fouled floors.

Squirrels reclaimed their nuts. The awful spew

Of what spoiled in you, lying by our fire,

Comes back to me as the vet says you’ve worn

Out the heart that banged to sleep beside my son.”

“Worn out the heart that banged to sleep beside my son.” That kills me. Smith is a fine poet, I really enjoyed this book and I’d recommend it to anybody with a taste for grit, parables, and dream-quest poems. I’d also recommend this last poem to anyone who’s ever once, had a dog.

–Sam

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