I think Anne Sexton and Frank O’Hara had a child and his name is Aaron Smith, and his Blue on Blue Ground is perhaps the bravest collection of poems I think Anne Sexton and Frank O’Hara had a child and his name is Aaron Smith, and his Blue on Blue Ground is perhaps the bravest collection of poems since Sharon Olds gave us sacraments such as Satan Says and The Gold Cell. Aaron Smith’s courage is on par with that of revolutionary writers like Sexton, O’Hara, Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn Brooks. His first full-length collection is unapologetically confessional, and both defiantly confrontational and defiantly vulnerable. His emotional honesty and authenticity are disarming and refreshing, especially in today’s poetic culture of guarded wit, artful dodging, and pretense, where emotional searching and self reference are often deemed pathetic and passe. He reminds us of some of the highest callings of poetry, and of the power of art to do what no other noble pursuit can do nearly as well. This book succeeds in the highest aims of art: like science that adheres to its principles, it seeks the truth, without regard to what one might like the truth to be; like the best of law and politics it compels us toward the “better angels of our nature;” like uncorrupted journalism it tells what isn’t being told, despite efforts of powers-that-be to keep it hidden, despite our own wishes to look away; like responsible education it challenges us to question, reconsider, and grow; like medicine not adulterated by motives of profit, its purpose is healing, even if that means doing some painful vivisection first.
Chosen by Denise Duhamel for the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, this book contains gems such as “The Signs of Choking” (to be a bruise spit out/ from the mouth of last night’s/ undressed stranger), “Story” (How quickly I am made strange), the “Dr. Engels” poems (swollen and exaggerated/ like the heads of the baby mice/ squashed in the garage), and “Then,” from which the following is an excerpt:
“Of course, there was a tragedy, the way the beautiful are given back to the stories that made them, quick
and perfect like a flash of his hair in the wind. And it’s stupid, predictable - the car, the drunk star athlete dead, leaving
his exhausted mother to wander the house at night calling his name”
Far greater than the sum of its considerably impressive parts, however, is its power as a collection. It is not only startlingly honest, it also reminds us of two buried anthropological artifacts: that meaningful honesty is not a rigid and easily drawn code concerned with the arrangement of clean facts, and that the liberations such honesty brings, although ultimately dazzling and wonderful, are sometimes as heavy as its burdens.
The first two poems of Smith’s I ever read, long before I read his book, left me thinking I would not like his work much. I’m usually drawn to more lyric intensity: a lot of simile, lines dense with bold and inventive imagery, where associations are drawn between the concrete that would otherwise seem unimaginable. Larissa Szporluk’s work comes to mind. That’s not to say my tastes don’t range far from that example, but for reasons that also include factors I haven’t yet identified, I just wasn’t enthusiastic about my first sampling of Smith’s work. The moral of this story is never rule out a poet after one reading, especially when that reading includes only a few poems. I’m more excited about this collection than I have been about anything I’ve read in maybe as long as two or three years, and I’m someone who is thrilled almost daily by something I read.
Blue on Blue Ground makes me want to buy Aaron Smith dinner and spend all night talking with him; it makes me want to be “made strange” to myself; it makes me want to find the bullies of his schooldays and give them bloody noses; it makes me want to get my “hairbrush microphone” and dance around and sing to Blondie and The Bangles; it makes me want to trade my frequent acts of cowardice for treks into my personal wildernesses. This book makes me want to be a better writer. This book, and I say this without the embarrassment it challenges us to defy, makes me want to be a better person. Fulfilling one of art’s most important functions, this book makes me want. ...more
I got this as a gift right when it came out in late 2005 and of course still have so much to read -- and re-read. Wow, wow, wow, could you possibly geI got this as a gift right when it came out in late 2005 and of course still have so much to read -- and re-read. Wow, wow, wow, could you possibly get more talent and virtuosity in one collection? Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker, Mailer, Updike, Anne Sexton, James Baldwin, Woody Allen, Hendrick Hertzberg, Junot Diaz, and on and on and on......more
I bought this for one of my nephews about ten years ago, and loved it so much I bought one for myself. Then I gave that one to one of my neices: it isI bought this for one of my nephews about ten years ago, and loved it so much I bought one for myself. Then I gave that one to one of my neices: it is absolutely one of the best children's books I've ever read, with beautifully painted illustrations, and a wonderfully validating feel to it. It celebrates children and all kinds of diversity with a global view that derives joy from all sorts of things about people, from ears and noses to homes and rituals. It encourages curiosity by including things like the alphabet in sign-language (ASL), and encourages empathy as it does not shy away from things like poverty and discrimination. 'An honest, straightforward, and sensitive book that does not condescend to children but rather approaches them as partners in discovery....more
recently read it again, and wow does this country need a big dose of charles dickens. can't it be a requirement of all the born-here-and-can-read-and-recently read it again, and wow does this country need a big dose of charles dickens. can't it be a requirement of all the born-here-and-can-read-and-especially-if-they-vote-or-have-a-sense-of-entitlement in order to receive the benefits of citizenship?...more
Heartbreaking. The sweetness and innocence of these kids makes it all the more so. A great idea of the adults involved in the creation of this book toHeartbreaking. The sweetness and innocence of these kids makes it all the more so. A great idea of the adults involved in the creation of this book to give these two talented teenagers tape recorders to document their lives culminates in a poignant and haunting story of the lives and deaths on Chicago's south side that impact the lives of the book's two young protagonists. Things written by adults are rarely this honest and brave....more
Some errors and inconsistencies, from a narrowly white-middle-class perspective, and some less-than-enlightened ideas about homosexuality, but nonetheSome errors and inconsistencies, from a narrowly white-middle-class perspective, and some less-than-enlightened ideas about homosexuality, but nonetheless revolutionary for its time, and, frighteningly, still today. First book to give voice to the "problem with no name," it was one of the primary catalysts of the second wave of feminism. One of the most important books ever written as it dramatically raised consciousness about things that greatly impact over half of the population. ...more