Saturday, March 29, 2008



2 poems from the bottom of the barrel by Logan Ryan Smith
(Dusie, 2006)

Oh that big fat red juicy apple. What an icon for the powerful United States of America. Or at least I grew up seeing the apple in that way -- I grew up in a country, the Philippines, which was not just colonized by the United States but which had a passionate 20th century romance with American pop culture…a romance that, in many places, continues on today….

Last year (which I mention only because I began this review in 2007 then returned to finish it many months later), I was one of about 60 Filipino poets/artists from around the world who participated in an exhibition in Manila. My contribution was a visual poetry installation which, I had suggested to the curators, should be installed with a roast suckling pig on a table beneath my piece. Such would suggest piggishness since U.S. colonialism occurred partly to suck out the Philippines’ natural resources, I had thought; and, of course, there would have been an apple stuck in the pig’s mouth. I’d even suggested that those attending the exhibition’s opening actually eat from the pig -- a meaty way to talk back at colonizers, if you will. The curators didn’t take me up on my suggestion due to some logistical constraints, but the concept holds.

This is all to say that at about that time as I read Logan Ryan Smith’s 2 poems from the bottom of the barrel, I was primed to empathize immediately with his use of the apple as a means to engage poetically with “Empire.”

At least I think that’s part of his intention -- his chap’s cover, after all, is of the image of some top of a building (a pediment perhaps?) with several (marble?) statues. I can’t recognize the figures exactly since the photograph is shot from the ground so that what are discernible are what’s seen when one looks up at statues rather than if one were standing in front of them. But the figures look mythological -- perhaps Grecian? -- and thus bespeak god-like figures, or certainly people in power. Indeed, the angle of the photograph, replicated so that the reader looking at a page also feels as if one is looking upward, is significant. One looks up to leaders and gods.

(I didn't email the author to ask about the images in the photograph, btw, since I want to engage with reviewed publications as unmediatedly as possible.)

Anyway, one of the figures is holding up an orb of sorts, which then Smith seems to have hand-colored red. The red ball evokes an apple -- fitting since the chap contains a smart set of poems titled respectively “red apple falls” and “into the fall.” The first poem begins:
my face is
not to be touched

my mouth is a yellow apple

I am an apple tree


climb me

in the evening
for something

I need

the fall for leaves

an apple here
an apple there

a forest for the trees

The opening seems benign relative to my reading of the chap’s cover. Except that the poem continues on to say
see the air at night
makes the holy
for a reasonable

there’s nothing here that’s right

And further on to say
that’s right

my face will turn apple-red

my mouth go yellow

all we need is a knife

shine me my skin

is growing yellow

All of the above -- the seemingly care-free beginning transmuting into something more insidious -- occurs on the first page. It should be noted, too, that the poem is crafted with a liveliness that quickens the reading -- sort of like how something falling seems to gather speed.

Given the chap’s political underpinnings, it’s no wonder that as we proceed further into the chap, we read such phrases as
I’m rotten in the middle
American & principled

I have money
                  for a million more apples

my innocence fell for an orchard

This chap offers just two poems, but they both exemplify what I’ve long thought about Logan Ryan Smith’s work. He’s got one fabulous ear (Dusie, the publisher of this chap, would come to publish a full-length book entitled The Singers that would seem to be aptly titled! Though I’ve not yet had a chance to read The Singers, I have had a chance to read his subsequent collection STUPID BIRDS and it affirms his ear and the vibrancy of his poems’ energies.) The politics in these two poems provide a steel spine to the work, but those spines are girding wings. These poems sing into resonant flight -- these are Songs. That they are singing about the crumbling of Empire only gives them more reason to raise their notes, sounds of the violin playing then burning along with the rest of Rome
                                    the red carpet ground
                                    is safe

for apples

                  my bruised
                  the heartbeat

in it
has the power to
burst forth in a spring of blood
& flourish
in the falls

                                    my apple core
                                    is food in
                                    the troughs of pigs

their snouts touch it
like gods

nuzzled & eaten

all the seeds unbroken

swallowed whole where more of me
is left

I am red as apples & pigs

I am a pink tooth
in the yellow forest of trees

I scratch through the bark
to eat
the core & sap
sticky & sweet

I love my America

my darling
my love
my whore of the hour

we’ll calendar this year

we’ll call my father
& say that we’ve married

we’ll chainsaw this forest
to beautiful stubs of glory


Hallelujah indeed. There’s an expanse in the poem -- at some point, Russia and Canada even enter the poems -- that certainly recall Whitman.

These poems speak on behalf of those fallen through the Empire’s cracks to attempt survival in “the bottom of the barrel.” What results are poems with vitality in music and vitality in message.


As remuneration for editing Galatea Resurrects, Eileen Tabios doesn't have her books reviewed here ... but she's pleased to point you elsewhere to Thomas Fink's review of her SILENCES: The Autobiography of Loss.

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