18 April 2011

A Review of "Men in Groups" by Aaron Smith

Three years ago, I dreamt about a gay poet who lived in NYC.  In the dream, someone told me that I had to read his book of amazing poems.  It doesn’t seem farfetched for one gay poet to be dreaming about another.  I didn’t get the name of the book in the dream, thought I did I remember the poet’s name, a very common one.   Because I am a firm believer in synchronicity, I looked it up.  I found Aaron Smith’s book Blue on Blue Ground and I’ve been a fan since.

I had the opportunity to meet Aaron at AWP in Washington D.C. this winter and hear him speak on a panel called Unembarrassed Poetry.  Again, Mr. Smith was acting as some kind of doppelganger in my life because he was standing in for Richard Siken.  His poems and thoughts did not disappoint.

At the bookfair, I stopped at the table for New Sins Press and was delighted to find a new chapbook by Mr. Smith called Men in Groups.  Perhaps this is the long way around to get to a book review, but I think the story is almost as good as the book.  Because the chapbook is, well I will say it, dreamy…

Mr. Smith opens the chapbook with the poem “Lucky” about how the speaker in the poem was lucky to only be laughed at by a group of boys in a locker room.  The violence in this poem is implicit, lurking just below the surface.  The speaker recites a litany of things done to other kids, but he is “Lucky they never did that.” (to him)

The violence is right up front in many of the other poems in this book from “Psalm (Queer)” to the title poem “Men in Groups” to “Make Him Think You Could Pull a Gun.”  The focus of these poems is what happens when men come together in groups—straight or gay men –and the consequences of these gatherings. 

Smith uses his characteristically deft humor and dark wit to deconstruct daily encounters with urban life.  In the poem “Open Letter,” he uses the anaphora “boring” to create a monotonous incantation which comes back to slap the reader in the face at the end of the poem.

This short, but strong book of poems closes with “After All These Years You Know They Were Wrong About the Sadness of Men Who Love Men.”  Perhaps I am a sucker for a touching ending.  Smith, far from being sentimental or gushy manages to navigate the feeling of triumph that a gay man experiences when he finally finds a home among his chosen family.  “…you want / to remember this.  You’ve waited / your whole life for them to miss you.”  And in a similar way, you will want to encounter Men in Groups, because you have been waiting to read something this good for quite a while.

Aaron Smith’s chapbook is available from Winged City Chapbooks an imprint of New Sins Press.

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