Reviewer: Cindy Hochman
I hunt for the little things in poets.
At first, the wall of words that comprises a Jared Smith poem can be daunting, but it doesn’t take long before, reading briskly down the page, you are swept up into the hypnotic blaze of an urgent landscape. Although the poems have their foundational roots in nature, Jared Smith also ponders our natural history, in sturdy and vigorous lines that climb steep mountains, plunge down deep valleys, and crisscross the back-roads of recollection. The crux of this brawny, yet reflective, collection is contained within the first line of the very first poem: “What we build endures.” To the Dark Angels, then, is about the trails we have traversed, but even more so, the legacy we will leave.
Poets are particularly prone to painting nature as gentle and contemplative, often as a buffer against the unrelenting realities of the man-made world. To be sure, Jared Smith guides us via the scenic route—his panorama of green grass and blue sky is lovely—but the nature found in Smith’s poems is not meant to be merely background; it is proactive, and not necessarily forgiving. Smith depicts a symbiotic relationship between us and our environs: what we have done to it and what it, in turn, has done to us. Here you will find a focus on inclement weather and its devastation, rough roads, and tough climes. A correlation is drawn between our homes and the open air; for Smith, our insular lives are a microcosm of the view outside, and they are both more punishing than meek.
The Weather Maker
This weather maker which fills the bottles of Wyoming bar rooms
There are veins of gold and silver and kimberlite and uranium
Although Smith for the most part eschews punctuation, I picture exclamation points everywhere, demanding that each poem be read with a clamant tempo, the packed and weighty lines illustrating both freedom and constraint. I picture him stamping his feet and flailing his arms, alerting us that there is a raging inferno, both emblematic and tangible, engulfing us. And, according to the poet, there is.
Front Range on Fire
The mountains are coming on us,
How many fires light the front range states?
While these are, of course, largely symbolic and spiritual conflagrations, they are backed up with statistical ones, along with no less dire a warning:
Report from the Fire Division
In 2012, forest and brush fires scorched 384,803 acres in the state, destroyed 650 homes and killed six people, according to the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control.
Something green is growing in the cities now, though it is dark, laden with smoke…
Jared Smith is not too fond of ghosts, which is rather inconvenient since his dwelling is so full of them. (“I’ve only started to become aware/ other people use our apartment at night./ They try to be considerate, inconspicuous/ gone before I am aware of them, but I know./ The coat closet hanging open when I wake,/ tell-tale scratches on the coffee table…/ I don’t like the extra laundry in the hamper/ or the dirty dishes in the sink when I get up.) These spectral inhabitants encroach upon his space, they call him on the phone, they make him do their laundry, and they leave him to throw out their wine bottles and handle their mail. But most unsettling of all, they force him to confront the shadowy presence looming over him (“I rise before it is time/ and encounter my ghost rattling/ between the minute hands of clocks// Each tooth of each wheel clicks into place”).
The poet thus leads us from memory to mortality. The present bears the scent of remembrance as it melds with the anticipatory future; the poems jump out into the universe but always return home. If you take these poems at face value, you are apt to fret upon the realization of time’s transience. But Smith’s reminder that “what we build endures” is heartening; although there is nothing we can do about certain death, at least we can be assured that our lives are recyclable, and the afterlife even more celebratory.
And Shadows in the Room
When I go, it’s likely I will have had too much to drink.
Here’s a drink to you and you and you, and shadows in the room.
Perhaps this “poet poet” has not only met the future “disguising itself in wind on trees/ in grains of sand rolling across granite,” but has also been face to face with the dark angels referred to in the title of the book—and has come to recognize that they are us.