‘Viscerebral’: Steven Ross Smith’s new Fluttertongue

Steven Ross Smith. Fluttertongue 5: everything appears to shine with mossy splendour (Turnstone Press 2011).

Fluttertongue is slowly building into Steven Ross Smith’s magnum opus, the ongoing poem that will eventually define his oeuvre as a whole. The subtitles of the first 5 books suggest just how wide-ranging & complex the project has become. In the first, the book of games, Smith took his lead form bpNichol in a series of poems stretching the forms, playing the fields. Book 2, The Book of Emmett, brought the work close to home as it explored the poet’s engagement with his young son. Fluttertongue 3: disarray took on the forms of prose poetry that have continued in the following two books, here broken on each page by a snake of a statement weaving its way through the whole sequence. Sequence may not be quite the right term; but each of these books is built as a book, a single work, however fragmented by its piecemeal construction. Fluttertongue 4: adagio for the pressured surround is one long piece, sentences slowly gathering a sense of the time in which they were composed.

Now, in Fluttertongue 5: everything appears to shine with mossy splendour, Smith discovers in a study of mosses & the kickstarts of phrases from the poetry of USAmerican Elizabeth Willis a way into a series of delightfully paratactic proses. Each page begins with a title phrase, but the sentences that follow refuse to follow each other necessarily. Rather they demonstrate the waywardness of the mind, its insistence on never taking a straight line of thought. Here’s an example, titled ‘Blood on the Wire’:

Leonard Cohen saw a bird, but now the shape of air and a bend or crimp. Seems from the snags, the wranglers have been through driving their cows against the fence, or something worse. The golden-bean is out, glimmers the slopes with bright yellow flowers amidst rippling grasses. Spring is a wonderful seasoning. Ticks wait in the long grass with hope for a passing animal. Such a fate. He was killed when he stepped on a buried bomb just a few feet from base, the soldier next to him took min or injuries, both so far from home. Why this one, not that one? A matter of inches, of relative irrelevance when a body’s density explodes. Sports commentators speak in the language of war, and beauty in motion. A slight vibration as fluid hits fibre. As metal into bone. He can still hear the song humming, electric, in his inner ear. Music, such a reason to live, such a human joy. A morning like no other, filled with warbler song, all that yellow, and once was free of misery.

Which, with its slyly collaged bits & pieces, is not the whole page. Rather than through the middle of the page, as in disarray, here the deeper interruption of lyric process occurs at the bottom of the page, an ongoing disquisition on mosses as discovered & expressed by the writer: ‘like Eric Clapton when he plugged back in. / Electrified cattail moss / whether or not you’re a moss-purist’. So both Cohen & Clapton appear on this page, though in different discourses. Music, art, & definitely writing appear throughout as markers of the writer’s thinking even, or perhaps most, when he most deeply engages nature or at least the outer world through which he necessarily moves.

There’s the comedy of poetry in the world: ‘Fever and writhe. Abuse of the apostrophe. A cruise-ship fills with fans of poetry who cheer on free verse, internal rhyme, parsing and parsley, disjunctive sage-thought, sonority, pinot noir, the iamb of God, haiku with sake, and a stop at every poet’s port even if an island or inland or interred.’ There are sharp little aperçus: ‘Coins as cons or icons.’ Some of them political: ‘As suggested the chamber was packed with intelligent minds, the studies far-reaching ut little was said of damage, of bruises-never-healed, of numbers-not-reported, though poets always speak from their tiny lofts, their Russias, their walls.’

Fluttertongue 5: everything appears to shine with mossy splendour is a bricoleur’s dark dreaming, a continuous act of dis/covery as the mind wanders out from its impetus, those phrases another poet wrote that pushed one reader to write on, out. Although, or perhaps because, each section moves in a deliberate & playful parataxis, a formal play that refuses any conventional narrative while sentence by sentence hooking the (writer’s & reader’s) mind into that narrative of poesis Kroetsch & Nichol have spoken of in reference to the long poem, this is a deeply engaging work. A profound pleasure. Smith continues to surprise, delight, provoke. Fluttertongue 5: everything appears to shine with mossy splendour, while definitely writerly comes across as definitely readerly too.

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