If there is one thing you can count on when it comes to literary journals it is that Smartish Pace will always produce a solid body of poetry in each and every issue. This issue is thoughtfully constructed, well crafted, and satisfying. Coming up on its fourteenth year of publication, Smartish Pace is only getting stronger.
“Dislocation” by Diya Chaudhuri tells the reader exactly what the poem aims to do the very moment you read the title. Chaudhuri uses the poem to dislocate the reader but never far enough that you lose sight of what is occurring—just far enough to leave an ache of dislocation. The poem begins by immediately twisting the reader back and forth: “Some gray resistance, some compulsion / towards preserving these hollow bones.” The idea of resistance, which is an opposing force, and compulsion, which is a compelling force, come together to immediately tear a reader two ways. The poem continues: “today will begin like all days since: the stamp unlicked.”
Megan Harlan’s “Bastide” is named after a medieval fortified hill-town in Southwest France. The poem asks the reader to walk along beside or become the “I” in this poem. The first line is in the present, but you are quickly taken back in time:
I cannot hear you over so many dead wars.
They cling to the sky-carved stones
of the tower walls and a language run riot
with rhyme, crusade as sweet-talk,
Harlan strategically places imagery of medieval times, and the poem is strong and steadily paced. The poem can be about the physical location or about someone speaking upon an old relationship that is dead but whose skeleton (“the city”) still remains.
Don Bogen’s masterful poem works to show ironies of a hospital, how hospitals are needed to preserve life but are also places for death. Death happens with or without them, but life does not always. There are three key components to each of the twelve sections of this poem: specific aspects of a hospital (some more abstract than others), a specific stage throughout a typical life cycle, and the history or lifecycle of hospitals as institutions.
In the first section, titled “Grounds,” Bogen builds a strong foundation for both his poem and the readers’ sense of the word “hospital.” While describing the aesthetics of a hospital, Bogen also compares them to “mansions, cruise ships, or resort hotels,” giving the reader a sense of luster that is reminiscent of youth and new beginnings. Next, Bogen focuses on stages of life or how humans experience the “life cycle” in relation to hospitals:
thumps on your heart, thickens your blood, they need
for you to drink this grayish milkshake now.
Here is a skullcap for your newly balded head,
While the reader witnesses all the tragedies and miracles a hospital produces along with how they impact life, Bogen makes sure to not forget the life or history of the hospital as well: “charting our own collapse. The hospital, / then, as heap of rubble, memento mori, / a transient guest house housing transients.” There really are so many finely tuned levels to this that the best way to experience it is to read it for yourself.
As usual, Smartish Pace has delivered another great issue, packed with amazing poets. The only way this could disappoint is if you don’t like poetry, but that is just crazy talk.