Monday, September 14, 2009

Feature: Carlton Smith Day 2

Daytime Cigarette

it struck me, the way that she smoked
with no regard for passers-by,
the crowd shuffled past her slowly,
the odd head jerking toward her,
wearing a frown in faux-disgust

she leaned in the sun against the
rust brick wall, baking in the heat,
one foot grounded and the other
propped loose against the dingy wall

I watched her raise her cigarette,
slowly to her mouth and tug,
the end lighting up in hot delight

her arm dropped down as the slightest
smokey wisp escaped her lips and
vanished in her inhalation

the festival crowd, densely packed
with tired fathers and lonely
mothers shepherding their children

she stood in stark contrast as one,
singularly disaffected,
letting the trails of smoke waft up,
one slowly from her dangling hand,
the other a white puff of cloud
escaping her nose and her mouth

a young woman walked quickly by
and turned, scoffing to her sister,
expressing her astonishment
with a grand gesticulation

and then I saw the one, only,
indication she was aware
of the crowd she stood among

one side of her mouth turned slowly,
in a sly and sultry grin -
and again she raised her cigarette,
enjoying her moment in the sun

© Carlton Smith

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Interview Question

Who are your favorite writers/poets?


My favorite writers are Ernest Hemmingway, Kurt Vonnegut and Milan Kundera, and all for different reasons.

I love Hemmingway's prose and I don't believe anyone writes using the English language quite the way he does. He has such a concise nature of writing that he can say in very few words what it would take many writers paragraphs to convey. He has been criticized for his treatment of women in his novels and his machismo is still celebrated today, but I think that the criticism is unfair. Some of his female characters, to be sure, leave something to be desired, like Maria from For Whom The Bell Tolls, but others, like Lady Brett Ashley from The Sun Also Rises are quite dynamic and complex. And he certainly brings a masculine sensibility to his stories, but I think this is a very good thing - and it contrasts well with the vulnerability he can sometimes show, as he does in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms and the contrast makes it so much more poignant.

Kurt Vonnegut is the absolute master at pointing out the absurdity of life. He can poke fun at the greatest of tragedies and leave the reader not only entertained but enriched in the process. His is the type of humor that not only keeps you reading, but really makes you think about the world you live in. I dare say that I don't agree with Kurt Vonnegut on any of his philosophies on life, yet at the same time I am completely riveted by his books and I have read all of them at least once and most of them several times. Even though I may not agree with him on these things, he presents interesting points and they will certainly give you something to think about regardless of where you stand on any given issue.

Kundera, on the other hand has a very unique way of expressing very complicated ideas. His novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is, in my humble estimation, one of the greatest novels ever written. He begins the novel with a discussion of Neitchze's theory of eternal return - and then uses that theory to underline the central aspect of the novel, which is the excruciatingly ephemeral nature of life - and then with such ease he tells the reader that this was the basis for his idea of a character and launches into the story about this character. I've never seen a novelist approach his subject in quite this way and he does it with such ease that it leaves me in awe.

I have many favorite poets, but the two that stand out most in my mind are E.E. Cummings and Billy Collins.

Of course, Cummings is famous for the irregularities in his writing style, but this isn't actually what lures me in with his writing. What draws me in is the utterly unique way that he pairs words together to express his thoughts. Other poets do this also, including me, but no one does it quite the way that Cummings does. One line that comes immediately to mind is "it is at moments after I have dreamed/ of the rare entertainment of your eyes" - that last phrase "the rare entertainment of your eyes" is absolutely incredible to me. The phrasing is completely unconventional yet I can completely relate to the thought. Another thing I love about Cummings is the fact that he writes his poems in so many different forms. He is most famous for his free verse writing, but he certainly didn't shy away from playing with many other forms. My favorite of his poems is actually an Italian Sonnet.

Billy Collins, on the other hand, has a certain clarity in his writing that I think is exceptionally rare. There is little ambiguity in his poems, and I would usually think of this as a weakness, but Collins' ideas are so completely unique that there is no need for ambiguity to make the poems compelling. He makes the extraordinary seem commonplace and the commonplace seem extraordinary. My favorite poem by him is a poem about the age old question, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin" and he meanders about wondering why there aren't other questions about angels asked and walks the reader through a few incredibly imaginative examples, and then winds up surmising that perhaps the answer to the age old question is simply one. I don't want to ruin it for anyone that hasn't read it (if you haven't, it's called Questions About Angels) but his description of this singular angel just blows me away. And he does this type of thing time and time again.

1 comment:

  1. Yep. I still like this one. The moment caught in photographic clarity. The subtlety of vague emotions and thoughts woven in beneath the banal patterns of robot life. Our protagonist is an iconoclast, and through her smoky eyes we're able to vicariously experience a zen x-ray of life.