The Wren Notebook (Cahier de Roitelet)
by Rick Smith
illustrations by Judith Bever
Lummox Press, P.O. Box 5301, San Pedro, CA 90733-5301, 2000, 65 pp., $10.
Available though A.B.E. Books

Reviewed by Mark Terrill
magazine & the gluesick broadside series

The Little Red Book Series from Lummox Press has already brought out some twenty-seven titles by such small press veterans as Errol Miller, A.D. Winans, B.Z. Niditch, Gerald Locklin, Laura Joy Lustig and others, and has received much well-deserved acclaim for both content and production. Rick Smith's The Wren Notebook is the first in the Little Red Book Master Series, which makes a quantum jump in the aesthetic standards already established by the Lummox Press.

Rick Smith's spare yet dense poetry is reminiscent of Basho, the Japanese haiku master, and displays much of the same restraint and discipline. But Smith's poetry is not limited by any specific form, other than the sound and feel of the language itself, to which he pays particularly close attention. (One is reminded of Robert Creeley's famous adage, "Form is never more than an extension of content," later adopted by Charles Olson and integrated into his infamous essay, "Projective Verse.")

The dominant factor here is voice and imagery These aren't just more hum-drum tales of domestic realism posing as poetry, nor are they "nature poems" as such. The figure of the wren is the continuous metaphorical thread that runs through this compact, elegant book (red covers, 6" x 6"), appearing and reappearing in various guises and incarnations; as nest builder, as potential prey, or as chimerical shadow flitting through the clouds, creating a sort of palimpsest of mythical manifestations in settings as diverse as Madagascar, Dakota, Lisbon and the Flatiron Building in New York City. In some poems we're seeing the world from the point of view of the wren, and in others we're seeing the wren from the point of view of an omnipresent, omniscient observer, giving the entire book an added dimension of self-reflexive introspection. The world as wren, the wren as the world. Here, in its entirety, is "In celebration of St. Stephen's Day"

        In celebration of St. Stephen's Day,
        Wren is hung by the legs.
        The Wren Boys wander through Dublin
        chanting and holding a mobile
        of dead wrens.

        The wren is tiny
        like the red still fist
        of a sleeping child.

        Wren comes back as The Holy Bull.

The reverse-angle point of view is well represented in "These wings they make me crazy"         These wings they make me crazy
        I don't sleep, I can't stop.
        Sleep is not a destination it is
        the distance
        between lives.

Rick Smith's poetry is eloquent, lyrical and highly vocative of the sense of nature that us wingless creatures don't normally have access to (or have lost touch with), addressing the reader with a flutter of wings, a flash of thought or a swoop through boundless skies. Judith Bever's pen and ink drawings compliment the poems in a thoughtful way, amplifying the already unified feeling of this collection. If the Lummox Press can maintain the standard set by this first book in their new series, then we can count on seeing some fine publications in the future.

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