In his second collection, Smith (The All-Purpose Magical Tent) lingers in a censored place where violence can’t be articulated and where language breaks down as it’s translated from eye to memory to Internet. In his poem “The News from Poetry” Smith’s language is fragmented as though reporting over through a fuzzy, long-distance phone line. Visually, the poem resembles Morse code attempting, unsuccessfully, to communicate a surrounding violence. As information moves in the world, parts are lost, translations are warped, and memories shift. Although we see “a satellite image with/ a zoom and travel function. Earth as dispersed as the dirt our treads/ trail to the next destination,” the scene isn’t complete, alluding to “something to the left or right/ of the edges of this picture.”. Smith observes, “there are revolutions per minute, there/ is the information super-highway,” but they may not convene. A country does not vanish if you cannot access it online, though “the Internet can be switched off/ and those outside describe the land/ as gone dark.” At times, Smith writes as though he’s composing a telegram, or a journalist taking flurried notes to remember the event later, where every word is crucial, and insufficient: “It tragic. It urgent.”
paperback, 88 pages, 5.5 x 8 in
Publication Date: 2013
A riveting second collection from a “poet already in his prime” (Boston Review)
How do we react to disaster, to political uprising, to spectacle? With relief missions, donations, and what words?While You Were Approaching the Spectacle But Before You Were Transformed by It, the second book by Lytton Smith, explores the relationship between poetry, news, and the lives of others. Poised between Brecht’s critique of empathy and Martha Nussbaum’s politics of compassion, this powerful collection plays with direct address and personal testimony as it investigates the relationship between ethics and the aesthetic. Drawing on sources that range from travel guides, BBC reports, contemporary art exhibitions, and sixteenth-century debates about masque, Smith’s book offers a range of forms that test the edges of the page, the borders of communication.