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This review is taken from PN Review 237, Volume 44 Number 1, September - October 2017.

Cover of More Flowers Than You Could Possibly Carry
John MuckleAlias Smith Simon Smith, More Flowers Than You Could Possibly Carry: Selected Poems 1989–2012 (Shearsman), £12.95

Simon Smith is a contemporary English exponent of early post-war US poetics, and this career-spanning selected poems shows him always to have been a good poet. His edges are smooth and buff, his wit is sharp, and a brew based on the mixed grains of O’Hara, Spicer, Reverdy and Catullus is distilled into pure English moonshine. This book, edited by Barry Schwabsky, opens with a dense, politically-driven sequence in which he batters late capitalism to a pulp, quickly thereafter spiralling up into exquisite bird song, and soon develops a politicised lyric of domestic heterosexual happiness, which is the dominant mood of his writing. There’s a lot of name-dropping: mille dedications to friends and contemporaries, copious references to poetic heroes and classics – a practice amounting at its most tiresome to a sort of obsessive self-positioning – but there is a genuine reverence for his chosen masters (‘you knew all poets are liars didn’t you, you knew’ ‘The Magician, Jack Spicer’, p. 65) and warm affection for friends and poets who emerged just ahead of him in the late eighties. Lightness of touch is a prerequisite of the New York manner, and Smith’s referentiality might have led to some soggy soufflés if he wasn’t quite so astute, so wary of being caught out, and if his poetry wasn’t also grounded in local cultural observations. Irvine Welsh gets a drubbing with a line referring to ‘wankers from Crouch End who think Trainspotting is the real thing’. But this kind of louche inverted postcode snobbery and middle-class knowingness isn’t all Smith has to offer, and ...

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