Sunday, March 31, 2019

Fred Schmalz, Action in the Orchards


I would like to wander
amid the heavens’ explosions
a mountainous country’s
nomadic art immaterial
if learned by heart
you move all the time
taking nothing with you
to meet the poets
from Kandahar and Kabul
replace philosophy
condensed essentially
says most at highest speed
sensed before thought
sometimes in the evening
after a party you go
into something ephemeral
the road to the city
accompanying Jew’s harp
a strange attentiveness
reprograms us
to think through the thing
and by looking
deal thought
a blow for colors
as a means to say
what I can’t
otherwise thoughts form
the core of objects
those shoes are blue
impossible to discuss
which is where
I have always been
sensitive to the weather
as such
yesterday I barely left bed
my body crumpled organ by organ
this is my deformity
interspatial comet crossing
stints as sleeper and slept
weeper and wept over
clocks can be fixed
there is no easy way to maintain
interest in the eternal

From Chicago writer and artist Fred Schmalz comes the utterly charming full-length poetry debut, Action in the Orchards (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2019), a collection of poems that very pointedly seeks to respond to the question of what artists of any kind should be doing (the answer, it would seem, is very simple: make art). Given the wealth of conversations and subjects poetry has been exploring a bit more lately, that answer might appear rather obvious, and yet, the question of what a poem can do, specifically, is one that is as old as writing itself. If, as Auden wrote, poetry makes nothing happen, perhaps the answer is entirely in emphasis: poetry makes nothing happen.

I like very much what the poems in this collection are doing. Schmalz’s halts and hesitations are composed with quiet confidence, rhythmically staggered and playful. “[T]his is the nature of invitation,” he writes, in the poem “POSTCARD FROM THE COUNTRYSIDE”: “it makes me feel / like a horse / in line for bread [.]” Or there is the poem “I AM A CAMERA,” a piece that feels entirely constructed out of singular phrases that may or may not connect, and in the end, accumulate, writing: “The look of the eyes is not love. / Nor is it a sixth sense. She remembered / my attention to conflict. I have a heart / defenseless by night. The hour came / and passed. Bravery did no good. / I supposed points of resemblance // were: pupil, curtain, light switch, / word play. An absolute dream / shocks. See you later.”

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