Counting Descent by Clint Smith caught my attention on social media when two separate poems were posted at different times. The two poems, “How to Make an Empty Cardboard Box Disappear in Ten Steps” and “Zero Gravity”, have noticeably different tones, subjects, and styles but Smith’s dexterity in each to illustrate significance with simplicity is dramatic.
I don’t have the language to comment helpfully on the technical or artistic aspects of this collection. Rather, my thoughts reflect someone delighting in the act of reading poetry and listening to carefully orchestrated words express ideas and experiences and insights with potent impact.
Potent is perhaps the best descriptor for this slim volume under one hundred pages.
And in this, readers are warned by the opening quote from Ralph Ellison, “I recognize no dichotomy between art and protest,” that this will be intentionally powerful. Smith speaks to this time in U.S. American history. His writing bridges the scattershot, emotional, unmoored conversations of social media and sound-byte news media and the prosaic, cerebral, anesthetized dialogues of intellectuals.
Smith’s poetry speaks to struggle and identity and hope and despair with a scope that reaches to the heavens but bends to notice the sound of a jump rope on the sidewalk. His subjects celebrate the movement of childhood and grieve the abrupt halting of growth. At times the poems peek into the intimate and in other cases they expand to humanity. He probes centuries of history and contemporary memory; stories specific and general. He uses bounce houses, playground slides, selfie sticks, jump shots, cardboard boxes, and NPR with the same versatile placement of language to be as powerful as his poems recalling genealogy, blackness in America, place and location, the ocean, freckles, stars, horizons, and slave ships – most often pulling these two sides, the temporary and superficial with the abiding and meaningful, together for an illuminating understanding and challenge. Readers experience a visceral reaction to his language, his stories, his styles and observations.
Counting Descent is one to add to your bookshelf. It is provocative and profound. A collection I will return to again and again.