A Kind of Waiting Always | The Nation


A Kind of Waiting Always

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Thus it is that ideas and images circulate, sometimes arriving at their destinations pages later, at which point you realize you were waiting for it to happen all along ("a kind of waiting always" indeed). The second long section, "The Spider Poems," equally defers and returns, extending its dreamlike images across yet another figure for the book's logic: "Spiders have needs of webbing," one poem points out. Webs, architecture and so on; it's a network of networks (indeed, the "network" is mentioned as well) in which any individual chunk is equally a transfer, receiving and relaying thoughts and feelings throughout the whole structure. The motion from one part to another, the sensation of finding shapes within the whole, of submerged connectedness: these make the matter of the book. In that regard the book's structure is very much like the author's daily existence. It's a form of life.

About the Author

Joshua Clover
Joshua Clover (@bookofriot) is a professor at the University of California, Davis, where he writes about poetry...

Also by the Author

Money is sitting around in its sweatpants listlessly spooning peanut butter out of a jar.

The music of Empire is the theology of capitalism.

This sort of "relationality" is often found to be postmodern, which may be to say only that Smith is of his time. But Deed's timeliness should not be confused with the sublime whir of the digital frontier. Sometimes a web is just a web. Smith's tone, moreover, is unique among his contemporaries. He is often poised discomfortingly and achingly between emotional immediacy and wiseass. As one page of "The Spider Poems" reads, in its entirety, "Some of the spiders are not called anything because they are happy./This is my new style. How do you like it?/It has caused me great personal anguish." It's uncertain how to take this last line, seemingly exaggerated and likely ironic. Certainly the book includes other such gestures, as in one poem composed only of a Bob Dylan quotation with the pronoun changed, given the quippy title "Barnes & Chernobyl." But the book has its great personal anguish too, including a breathtakingly brief invocation of the death of a son in a car crash: "There is some reason to believe/he was trying to miss a deer." The flatness of the tone lets it slide in all the more swiftly; after that, a pain comes.

All of which is to say, the matter of emotion and idea in the book is hard to discern in any given instance, verse, poem. Rather, one must have the patience to locate oneself within the larger structure; only then do passages take on their fullest resonance. No particular moment sets the tone or determines the meaning; there's no single focus. One late poem offers an image of "aeons/of foci--tunable, coherent,/immeasurable"; this is perhaps the closest Smith comes to saying the name of his poetic sensibility.

There is a kind of order, but no one is in charge. No overarching figure organizes everything beneath it; no boss concept impedes the leap of sensation and feeling from station to station. This allows a greater sense of mobility and greater intensities at each point: "Each spider/is a clump of spider longings & thrills." Crude, but exciting; sign me up.

But isn't this just an alibi for chaos? Maybe so. In imagining our way back to social reality, anarchy may be a more useful concept than chaos. Not the black-masked caricature, or libertarianism with delusions of grandeur, but the dream of a social life without top-down rules and marching orders. Instead, a life where everyone is equally a point within a community, within the give and take of the great circulation. By now this should sound familiar. This is the book and the life equally. "If the house is just poetry," Smith writes, "we're in trouble."

Anarchism, famously, is a politics of desire--and a poetic one at that. "There is only one man who has the right to be an anarchist," said Stéphane Mallarmé. "Me, the Poet, because I alone create a product that society does not want, in exchange for which society does not give me enough to live on." The logic of revolutionary desire haunts Deed's final poem, the five-line "pour le CGT." The title's reference is to France's leading trade union--la Confédération Générale du Travail, which traded the insurrectionary spirit of 1968 for a modest wage increase. It reads in full: "We work too hard./We're too tired/To fall in love./Therefore we must/Overthrow the government." It is not a poem that wants explication; it's clear enough, and by now the book has seduced us into taking such suggestions seriously, even as we conjure a wry grin. Perhaps it only bears recalling the complaint that much of today's most compelling poetry requires a lot of effort to read: shouldn't it be more accessible? There are many fine answers to this conundrum, but perhaps Smith's logic is best: if we're too tired to read such poetry... It is a vision, one might say, not of putting poetry in the service of revolution but revolution in the service of poetry, so that we are, all of us, left to read and write and love as we like, to be, each of us, a clump of longings and thrills of the intensest kind.

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size