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‘Does anyone have / a poem to Cher?’ I doubt it’s as honest or fresh as the poems in The Book of Daniel. Can a poet be as well-versed in Plath, Lorde, Olds, and Baraka as he is in celebrity and pop culture? Spoiler alert: hell, yeah. With the gift of a high-speed Internet connection, Smith maneuvers the confusing messages of grief, rejection, and, yes, contemporary poetry. Poets beware: you are not off the hook. Smith brilliantly challenges everything you hold sacred.
Aaron Smith writes with arresting, melancholy literalness about bruises, exaltations, arousals, delectations, and defeats. He doesn’t mess around with filigree. He sticks to abject delineation, punchy straightforwardness—a new way of being formal and naked. I believe in these gripping poems, and in their message to the world.
Aaron Smith is queer poetry’s lacerating, arch, self-aware satirist in the age of poetry-branding, ‘everyone // saying they’re brilliant.’ (If Smith had a brand, it might read, No more being peaceful, as he writes at the end of ‘I Pledge Allegiance to the Fag.’). The poems in The Book of Daniel, damaged and violent and intimate, wryly circumspect, demand nothing—certainly not admiration—other than the reader’s unflinching attention. I admire them, and get the hell out of their way.
Reading The Book of Daniel is like catching up with a raucous, well read, deeply sensitive, mercilessly candid friend. With astonishing turns—heartbreak to hilarity and back—the poet leads us through fantasy, brutality, daydream, irreverence and devotion. Smith’s wit is impressive, not irony-as-evasion, but laughter of the highest order, retrieved from bewilderment and sorrow. These poems will reward your attention with their effervescence and their depth.