Bird Lizard Horse, August Smith
Nostrovia! Press, 2015
Reviewed by Elizabeth Mobley
In Bird Lizard Horse, August Smith invites the reader into his “garden,” which he readily admits isn’t a garden at all:
It’s a conceptual garden.
The concept is that it’s empty.
But Smith’s garden isn’t empty. In fact, it is filled with all sorts of thought-provoking and controversial themes, such as popular culture, the wasteful nature of capitalism/consumerism, the confrontational nature of art, millennials, and the decline of American culture.
The poetry in this fourth collection of Smith’s doesn’t use flowery language to paint some drab picture of our degenerate generation. Smith’s tone is conversational, accessible, and aids the reader in his/her assent into the reality that times have changed.
In “The Bottom Line,” Smith highlights the laziness of Americans and our failure to be happy with what we have
My new green shirt doesn’t fit like it did in the dressing room.
But it’s the same shirt. I’ve entombed it in my closet
until it cooperates or until I find the receipt.
Things are not always as they appear, and our fast culture of Facebook and Twitter makes it all too easy to pretend to be what we simply are not. He continues:
I down the bottle of pomegranate juice like a fucking prince.
I look at the label.
Turns out it’s mostly cherries.
I feel skeptical of existence.
This is the bottom line.
Smith really pinpoints several growing problems in American society. Rather than placing judgment, his poems simply lay everything out and make us think. The sarcastic nature of the work in this collection allows the reader to become immersed in a realm of deep thought and possibilities. In “Two Stars, and a Sliver of a Third,” he provokes the reader to question the dangers of blind faith.
Is there ideology behind your veganism?
Is there psychology behind your Buddhism?
Is there chemistry behind your depression
or prescription behind your medication?
Here, Smith touches on so many of the current fads. While most of the poems in the collection fail to pass any judgments, instead only highlighting the problems, here he offers a witty and absurd solution:
Worry not, good people of this flailing era!
I have read all of the big books and
I know the answers you seek.
Bring me your doubts.
Smith’s poems speak the truth—candidly, with a dry humor fitting for today’s glum and negative atmosphere. In a world where everything is weighed and measured and tweaked for maximum productivity, Smith gives two stars out of five.
The last poem in the collection, “4 Can’t-Miss Lifehacks That Will Change Your Life!,” closes the collection with little more hope than it began.
Now that I think about it,
let’s do away with language altogether
he explains, and before the poem breaks out of decipherable language, he continues
There is only song and stimuli,
breathing and reactions,
candy canes and disco balls,
then, Smith ends with
birthday cakes and ;;;; emptiness,
the game of rest and time
— eyes with of this it,
merry words with out any
truth tongue going
happi’’’ness tree gargle ham ocean
losing all semblance of Standard American English. “Ocean” is the last readable word in the poem, although it does continue into symbols, letters and words mashed together and unreadable. The collection fittingly closes with nonsense. Smith gives no answers to any of the questions he raises in typical postmodern style, and the collection is reminiscent of Voltaire’s Candide.
August Smith’s garden isn’t empty as he proclaims in the first poem of the collection. It’s overgrown with sardonic humor, ripe with Voltairean satire, and saturated with contempt at the way things are.
Bird Lizard Horse wasn’t what I thought it would be, but I loved every word. Do not pick up Bird Lizard Horse hoping to find whimsy and pristine nature. Instead, grab a copy because Smith paints a perfectly postmodern picture, aghast with all of the dirty laundry of American consumer culture.