March 6, 2008

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The Year of Adverbs, Elizabeth Smither, (Auckland University Press, 2007, 64 pages)
By Dan Szczesny dsczesny@hippopress.com

Elizabeth Smither’s newest collection, The Year of Adverbs, tries very hard to be clever. It mostly fails.

Best known for unexpected imagery and the ability to create small moments of wonder out of everyday life, Smither seems to be struggling here.

All too often, Smither’s normally charming verbal playfulness is weary, like an English 101 student trying to impress a teacher. In fact, the title poem is just eye-rollingly bad — very nearly a tiresome phone-book list of adverbs pushing along disjointed images. For example, “Vaporously, yearningly the tears flow / tearfully and there is mainly snow // except for someone dancing girlishly on sand / and lightly clothed.” Ugh. After more than 20 books, maybe Smither has just run out of ideas and let one of her students write the poem.

It’s a shame really because Smither’s wit is still sprinkled throughout this collection; the “suits of armour” the narrator buys in “Buying a Corset With My Mother,” and her quietly reflecting on a Monet painting while sitting in a dentist’s office, are funny and smart moments. But all too often, the reader is painfully aware of the writer behind the prose trying to point out how smart the images are.

There are some nuggets in this collection and Smither fans will just be happy to have a new volume from their favorite poet. But mainly, we can only yearningly, zealously, maniacally wait for something better from this generally great poet. C