Mike Smith’s ‘Multiverse’

by Tony Aarts

by Mike Smith
BlazeVox, 100 pp., $16.00

“…it’s always a hairy time to be alive.”

In the new collection Multiverse, Mike Smith takes the familiar and reminds us there isn’t much we can be sure of. This collection veers in subject, setting, voice, and intent. The poems themselves contort throughout the pages in various compositions from block to sections, broken lines, and couplets. The effect is one of an unhinged gathering. Here the silverback gorilla mirrors a young woman’s pain just as the natural absurdity of a neighborhood shows how small the microcosm can be when the viewer has a moment to watch those around them.

As a reader, I was curious how the poet had ever decided to write a collection such as this. The images and language are so far-ranging that it could easily push the collection off its center and without a sense of itself. This is where form hangs its hat. Smith trusses up the bestiary and the anagram with recurring images of animals large and small. That his cast of beasts are unpredictable only helps to add to the spectrum of experience in the poems. The second half of the collection pulls from Smith’s own inspirations and noted texts as he creates anagrams based from the works of these various authors. Pound, Dickinson, and Frost all populate these poems as Smith calls upon, and sometimes even calls to task, the writers he has followed. His voice is measured, but earnest; the individual that has seen enough to stand still in the midst of it. Smith sums up much of the human condition in “Zebra” when he writes, “(All form is passing; persistence / is the coarsest path to glory; no one knows / another’ s griefs.) Even the use of parentheticals and the line break help to add to the subtle conviction that this poet resides in. It may be that this shifting in voice, the change in delivery and tenor that allow him to arch over so much. As in “Anemone, Limpet, Mussel, Crab” where Smith cites a God that knows a world that “is only almost / predictable.” Again, the form and delay of the line helps to lower the volume on otherwise very loaded thoughts. It’s this sense of ease while acknowledging pains and faults that makes Multiverse pulse as a sincere collection of professions.

“Often, I mistake / boredom for safety.” – “Mermaid (II. From the File)”

I am someone that finds some comfort in the use of humor, but not simply as entertainment, but what it also says about the speaker. Taking these lines in contrast to the loss of poems like “From the Desk of William Carlos Williams: Notes Toward a Speech in Three Parts” where Smith follows “Spring and All,” and “This Is Just to Say” as he rifles through the everyday and then looks to the modern experience as it is, “waiting, / plopped between one world and some stark / other”. The poet’s is a world where there is still much to do, and that is not only burden, but also opportunity.

While the book is divided by these two forms, it is the bestiary that seems to throttle with the most emotion. By drawing up an image, whether it be a raccoon or a hippo, the images graft to each animal and make it a tapestry for Smith. It’s no secret that humans have long been interested in the mirrors they find in the animal world. This pursuit is an unadorned one, and one that Smith employs well. The second half of the collection still offers up strong language and structure, but the anagrams rest within the form in a way that keeps them out of reach. Poems like “7 False Starts on Living in the Old Neighborhood” and “Lessons” call up the natural images of experience. It is in poems such as these where Smith’s use of strictures of the anagram couple best as it meets the quiet details of a game of one-on-one or the way a man’s backyard becomes a place of rest and mercy.

Multiverse is a stealthy collection, one that won’t hold shape or grant itself the spotlight. All comers are welcome, and all have a story to tell. Just as well, these stories are immense, and Smith knows they reach indefinitely as in “Clones,” “They say something like love sent them / toward our sputtering world, and love / we are sure / has no end.”


TONY AARTS is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was poetry editor for The Greensboro Review. His poems have appeared in Fou and Forklift, Ohio. He lives and works in Minneapolis, MN.