Review: All Talk by Rich Smith Poor Claudia, 2014
Rich Smith’s collection of poetry conveniently titled All Talk is performance and stillness. It is not a collection set in form but is rather used as an exploration of all manners in speaking. Its readers can expect inquiry glazed with a healthy dose of sarcasm and candor.
Tones dance, and the music follows the patterns of our day-to-day. Everything that is loud. Everything that hums below our belts. Under our neckties. Every poem in All Talk works as a list of all the reasons to go to the dirt beach of a still lake and sit there and look. It’s not the kind of list that only pierces through you over and over, bringing two pieces of unknown fabric together. It’s the kind of list that gives reason to turn the page, and go. In first- and second-read, it is more of an opening than a seaming. If you are looking for the answers here, however, you may well need to write a response after a long walk for no one else but yourself.
That is not to say the speaker threaded throughout All Talk does not intend to turn a reader away from the sound, but claims it is all around, to listen. There are so many poems that beg us to listen. It appears most poems in this collection are active in a paradoxical play. If we could imagine this collection as a play, as in a theatrical performance, then sit back and enjoy, laugh, weep, cringe and put your head down for a minute.
There is the literal sound for those wanting easy listening, like in the poem “Jinx,”
“yesterday I had to keep
silent. In my silence
I noticed I provoked
the fridge to tick, the cups
to clamor, the neighbors
to fuck and then fall silent
themselves. An absence of noise is a bad definition for silence”
But watch out for trips like in the poem “Post Script” where sound is most deafening on the resting note,
“because they are a photograph of themselves
cruel, cruel, crueler than letters
as they are not evidence you can keep beginning
they are evidence that you are not here”
(Much of what is being sorted through reminds me of playing Scrabble and only thinking of words that are not available.) It is more theoretical erasure than a box full of confessional poems. Rather than admitting in the trick of self-fault, what would your life be like if you said you would do something and then didn’t? Smith calls you out on every page.
Very simply, like in “Heart,”
“Our platform is one plank: say heart in public and mean it
in the old fashioned way. Little bearing thing.”
And in “Not Quite Heaven,” sarcasm lightly sweats.
“But if you take your time coming, when you get here
perhaps you will have more to say on the matter.”
The reader is not alone in the stillness of reflection. There is the nearest common denominator character, Sarah, who may just be an object on display of the unrequited, but the speaker does so in a way that is both playful and full of awareness. In “The Point of Distraction,” a poem that starts the second half of the book in Sarah poem after Sarah poem, the speaker uses the character and the words as reflection of each other. Poets might call this personification.
“I am a double tall Americano,
a dollar in the tip jar.”
This could be another dance with erasure. By omitting all else, the reader is left with nothing but:
“For her, I am what I do when I’m sleepy.”
Or perhaps it is a belittling of self as the self is removed from the equation. After all, the equation leads to only words on the page.
“I say I want the poem to establish its own logic
because I am what I do when I remove myself.
She says this poem doesn’t know anything,
and neither do I”
Sometimes — most times — Smith boils it down to the science of a title. As in “The Fundamental Problem with Exploring” or “Advertising” or especially All Talk where the collection as whole exposes a truth for the immediate ear.
Karen Cygnarowicz is a poet and artist traveling the world. She currently works as a freelance editor and writer, while studying her mfa in writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys stories that capture character, poetry that embarks on the mountain of emotion, and films that really know how to use the sun. Art is everywhere. She is determined to show you. Visit her poetry and art here: karen-cygnarowicz.com
Image by Jonathan Kroell