Appetite is a book that explores our American Mythologies, particularly masculinity and film. Smith investigates our fascinations with the body, gender, and entertainment in poems that are critically observant, darkly funny, darkly angry, and, sometimes, heartbreaking.
Whether he is cataloging shirtless men in films and bad television, lyricizing the anxieties of childhood, or redrawing the lines of cultural membership, Appetite attacks its subjects with wit, candor, and compassionate intensity. These poems announce their presence with a style that is as beautifully wrought as it is provocative.
In the America of Appetite, the usual hierarchies are obliterated: the disposable is as valuable as the traditional, pop culture is on the same level as the sacred, and the pleasurable simultaneity of past and present are found in high art and the tabloid. Smith’s work engages our contemporary moment and how we want to think of ourselves, while nodding to rich poetic, cultural, and personal histories.
[A]s the title suggests - as the eponymous poem bears witness - [the book is] essentially about desire, in its purest form, the carnal drive that motivates him (us), the all-consuming temptation for which we're willing to risk everything.
A bold and uncompromising confrontation with the body and its dangers, from the perspective of a gay male poet. In poems too urgent to take refuge in the decorousness that defuses many poems about desire, he writes with wit, smarts, and heart about the connections that all of us (queer or less queer) attempt to make using the precious and problematic vessels of our selves.
'Appetite' will leave you feeling like you've stepped around the block, laced into the life of a gay speaker looking both inward and outward.
These poems about how vulnerable desire makes us and how far we are willing to go despite everything waving us off begin frequently enough by following some stranger's happy trail, but where they lead is the happier, much stranger, surprise. Let's just say that anyone who can note that stars are 'strung like bulbs too small to be useful' and who, if taken at his word, is 'willing to regret it all' is after something worth chasing. More often than not Smith succeeds in getting into its pants and, panting, we smell those smells before being singed by the Unnameable: 'What the hell just happened?!' That's what I'm looking for in a new poem, and it's surprisingly hard to find. For me it was in the poems of James Wright, and damn if it isn't here again.
I have been waiting for the follow-up to Aaron Smith's Blue on Blue Ground with tremendous interest, and Appetite delivers. These poems showcase Smith's compassionate intelligence with wit, joy, and lyric aplomb. Appetite is a book to live with, swoon over, and be chastened by. Give it to your friends. Give it to your enemies. This voice matters.
Aaron Smith has inherited, from the openly gay poets of the New York school, a commitment to telling it like it is. His lack of pretense is enhanced by his anger at the intolerance of heteronormalcy and religiosity. Like Frank O'Hara, Smith knows the true gods are at the movies. Shirtless male celebrities—for this poet, there's no better paradise.
[S]ubversively simple, startlingly subversive, indirect in its directness, evasive in the appropriate ways, bracketed in mystery, and filled with hunger. These are the poems I want to read.
Smith reveals his speaker's past, his preoccupations, his loves and hates and fears and loneliness—in short, his humanity. It is an admirable achievement, and the book is a very rewarding read.
'Appetite' is a book that feels important. In his direct account of what it's really like to confront our sexuality against the many unforgiving aspects of mainstream popular culture, Smith gives voice to a risky, forward-thinking intelligence, and a daring sense of humor. These poems stay conscious, secular, awake in the world. They make an argument for queer sensibility, and reach beyond austere notions of desire into truthful complication, exploring what it means to live among, and with, others. They challenge us; they mark us; they refuse to be safe.
Aaron Smith is the author of Appetite, and Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, as well as the chapbooks Men in Groups and WhatÕs Required. His work has appeared in a number of literary magazines, including Ploughshares and Prairie Schooner, and The Best American Poetry 2013. He is assistant professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.learn more