Abraham Smith’s latest book, Dear Weirdo, consists of a vibrant 81-page long poem throughout which the reader experiences both Smith’s unique writerly voice and a chorus of countless voices across space and time. The characters in Smith’s poem are not only humans; animals also contribute to his poetic world. Reading Dear Weirdo feels like gazing at an ornate tapestry: one can focus on both the countless vivid details and the way they expand into one brilliant scene. The poem is saturated with Smith’s lyricism, characteristic humor, and occasional flashes of tragedy. Yet it never loses the tenderness with which Smith’s poetry seems to approach life itself.
Much of Dear Weirdo reflects on the passage of time and its effects on individuals and society. The poem begins with the lines: pick up a stick these days and it’s snakes/and here it turns out we’ll be just shy/of eternally gone/almost always have been. Time in Smith’s world is not a linear march; when the speaker depicts the present, the reader simultaneously feels the past, the future, and the possibilities of what could have been. The speaker reflects on the choices of life and wonders what cards might I have drawn different? He asks his readers if they ever get to/thinking of everything one time. Memories collide; nostalgic relics of rural American life intermingle with the present day; dying department stores shut down and Amazon grows stronger; old Bibles sit side by side with smartphones playing YouTube videos. In this cycle of time, death looms over Dear Weirdo. Hearses, funerals, and illnesses mix with the living.
Dear Weirdo does not shy from confronting societal issues that plague its American setting. Once the reader has eased into the poem’s world, lines such as numbers telling me/it’s early still and there is time still/for massacre and children/whose glass cheeks let you see/the laugh coming up/ahead of time growing up are all the more cutting. Smith’s depiction of rural America displays poeticism without romanticizing its subjects. References to the opioid epidemic and growing rates of meth addiction abound. Economic inequality, collapsing industries, Covid-19, political turmoil—Smith presents America as he sees it and does so in a melodic, luminous way.
Dear Weirdo inspires the reader to find humor in tragedy and beauty in the mundane. Sandhill cranes and cedar waxwings dash through Smith’s pages leading to musings such as: yes it is possible to see the moon for the first time too nigh/them cranes’ll make you redream like that. Here, humanity is not separated from the natural world: it is interwoven with it, and there is a brightness in this combination. Even in its heavier themes, Smith’s poetry never loses this sense of joy: ah the waxwings today in between today/card the berries today/wool to way today/walk warmly today/and freely today.