Early on in Touché, Smith states: “I’ve taught myself to unwrite.” It’s the sort of thing that need not be stated for those who appreciate the high writing. An admiration for the cycle of writing life spans teaches the reader to love and expect mature writers to return to the ‘nonsense’ of youth. But upon the return, it is hardly nonsense. It is writing with depth and meaning, a sprawling take on the audacity of what it is to be alive. Smith moves forward from the realm of flarf with a political and social consciousness. In “Police Poem,” Smith uses the avantgarde form to showcase powerful ideas: “the proletariat’s determining role in history stopped / with the bombing of Hiroshima” and “cops just arrest people.”
This is followed by a stanza that explains the “mildmannered lookaway american methologies” that is the class struggle of our time. We allow everything in our civilization without question. So long as we can get our fast food and enjoy our internet, we do nothing to stop the process, even though we all know “the gravity of advancement within the strong force.” This leads to an interesting enjambment and space that depicts the awareness and ignorance that we all have: “Their vital spirits are guarded within / and cannot be deluded by things. Things, however, are quite deluded.”
The pattern of personal awareness is continued on the very next page with “In a Station of the Metro”: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Passed out beside the litterbox.” It is silly and in good fun. It mirrors the modern world in a just-perfect way. It is a highly recognizable poem that helped to start the movement Smith is still a part. Conceptual poetry oftentimes concerns itself with words and language deemed not poetic. This is a way to mingle that structure with the deep imagist poetry of Pound and his generation. Except now the image is the modern shit of pets. Cats rule the internet, so why wouldn’t the crowd be passed out next to their nicely contained and well plotted excrement?
But at the end of the day, “Love was not / easy” and “All writing is pigshit” because this is a book concerned with truth. The reason for the modern form is that it is set on revealing, mirroring, and even creating truth. The form itself is the way in which it is revealed. By making the content an amalgamation of every single thing that comprises waking existence, it mirrors the truth of our daily lives. The entirety works to create the new fashion in which we “have an eye with a brain in it.” This means we look at the world with vision and understanding.
All of these revelations are followed by the poem “Find the job that’s right for you,” including “5 PartTime Custodian,” “23 PartTime Gallery Attendant,” “153 PartTime Sales Associate,” “195 Occasional ArtHandler,” “200 PartTime Sales Associate,” and “206 Sales Associate.” Because at the end of the day, much of this is trite and meaningless. It’s all about capitalism and feeding the government who will police you. We can create art, but there are still positions to clean and sell and take care of every little thing. We have compartmentalized everything under the sun, assigned rules to it, set up positions and make everything better while ruining everything.
“This is such total bullshit,” sums up the modern sentiment that Smith delivers:
at the political
infected by petty
or some upperechelon
America loves you.