Steven Ross Smith. Emanations: fluttertongue 6. (BookThug 2015).
Definitely one of this Autumn’s poetry books to add to the library, Emanations: fluttertongue 6 is, as its subtitle says, the latest addition to Steven Ross Smith’s adventurous, engaging, & always changing life-long poem. Over the past 5 volumes, Smith has found many different formal ways to write his life & live his writing in the complex construction of book-length works that are also parts of a longer, always-under-construction yet exploratory work.
Emanations, among many other things it does, is paying a kind of homage to many of those Robin Blaser called ‘companions’ – those fellow poets one admires & converses with in one’s own writing. Here the conversation, so to speak, made specific in the notes: ‘The source poems that seeded this work and then disappeared back into their own lives are listed below. There has been no attempt to imitate or trace, but rather to simply leap off an edge each source supplied.’ How each poem ‘leaps’ is Smith’s doing, & then, in the formulation of the poems, he also inherits formal possibilities from lots of others beyond ‘the many’ he ‘writes with.’ Pound, Williams, Olson, Creeley, Stein, are just a few of the great modernists whose technical discoveries Smith has taken in to his own poetics. Yet the poems, in all their formal variety are very much Smith’s own.
Emanations: fluttertongue 6 begins with a frog (& a nod to the most famous one in Basho [& then also bpNichol]), found in a raucous poem of natural sounds & sights that also announces the paradoxical nature of the whole book: having (re)presented how ‘On a long thin frond beside an ambling feeder stream / green frog gleams, sheen and / pock, journey scarred,’ the poem insists, ‘A frog, nonetheless, is not a poem / though a poem may have legs, may leap / – the poet has witnessed – the frog-leg flip from pond to plate.’ There will be many ambiguous binaries throughout Emanations, none of which will hold. This is a book of unravelings, questions leading only to more, some of which touch lightly & sprightly on our deepest ecological fears indeed, a poem like ‘Tailwind’ displays the kind of wry wit at work on such themes as appear, often simply by implication, throughout: ‘Forget lumbrous giants / of the Pleistocene / hidden in shale, yet / shaped in plastic figurines // No, do remember, make your mind a museum shop.’
As these excerpts reveal, although these poems sidle up to a number of serious concerns, not least our relation as humans with the natural world, they delight in word play, puns, internal rhyming, & much more in the language-game repertoire. Take ‘North,’ for example, which begins, ‘Even in the dark the drag- / line bucket shuffles / clicking chancy operations / over flute and bassoon’ & continues through various guttings of ‘north’s pristine / patient / last geology,’ to ‘Hope holds / its alchemy / a landscape of where / revealed // Fenced compounds over there / burlaped, ask dwellers what / botany whispers.’ These stanzas truly do leap, around & above simple statements & they also sing.
These poems range too widely to cover all they cover in a review. The idea of the poet, engaged, wishing ‘poems echoed, choate or in-, shone / like sprigs, tentacles of multiplication, earnestly adult / mathematics’ surfaces again & again. They insist on the ways in which other writing forms as much a part of ‘experience’ as any physical engagement with the natural world yet must be encountered in the rich apprehension of that world. They remember, most stringently & strongly in ‘Staged,’ a beautiful elegy for his friend & fellow writer-&-performer, Richard Truhlar. Here a series of short subtle lyrics, with their hovering ‘Moth, fated to flare’s / smoke-knotted hiss / wind-whisper, ashen’ & ‘light’s failure,’ & other such images emanate & animate essential loss.
Emanations: fluttertongue 6 is a book that will reward rereading, yet offers so much on first perusal. Steven Ross Smith, in his continuing fluttertongue project, of which this is a significant addition, is slowly constructing one of the major contemporary long poems.