Hank by Abraham Smith

Most everyone I’ve talked to about this book or about Abraham Smith in general, his reading performances or his writing, his ideas, his sense of verbal compulsion and montage of syllable, his voice, has pretty much come to agree on one point: “I have no goddamn idea where this guy came from.” His first book Whim Man Mammon, also from Action, was one I read I think in a small room and somewhat in my backyard, thinking somehow someone had learned to talk to a machine, but like a machine that used to sit in the back room of a shaving place where men came to bark secrets at other men while getting the hair done off their face. An image from one of the poems in that first of a man throwing a chair at a sweet gum tree remains one of those tranplanted sights that is just now a full part of my own head.

Earlier this year then I saw Abe read from the same poems in a larger room, channeling some kind of cross between his own admitted sound of hearing preachers through transistors growing up in Kentucky, and some kind of tangled man caught in a draft vent. Everyone I went to that reading with still talks about jesus christ that guy is something. I had to reread that first book again after that and understood it not as a machine but as someone maybe talking to the ground that used to be underneath our feet and the sky that used to have a different kind of color too, and with a shitton maybe of whiskey and old music that sits in the soles of people’s feet. [Here’s a downloadable video of Abe reading from both books.] Here’s another:

This new second book, Hank, after Hank Williams, goes even further than that first one in just inventing and channeling this who the what where how did you say mode. These poems are longer and all titled not in english but in expletive deletion symbols, probably like the weird kind of coils that seem to come up when you hear someone talk like this. I can’t even pick excerpts from these ongoings because it feels like taking the finger off a hand.

Like, okay, here’s a passage out of the guy of one of these tirades:

life at the syllable that’s volcano voodoo
that’s the hookworm sleeps in the jungle bird dung
sleeps and creep up the tree ropes of
your blood think about after a hurricane twenty
ropes on every tree like the masturbations of
ten cowboys think about every eyelash is a comma already
and let’s say through a few young years
of chicken shit wanders worm your sight turn
west of east and then the sea
you maybe heard one time in the cough
of an oldie maybe trying to
bring up a bear help spank all this
red off the vines the sea
maybe like cement seems
to burn with solomon’s face
red with indecision at every cooling window

More so than the south or sermon or assault rifle, this book is like waking up somewhere you’d thought you’d been meant to be going and then you got there and everything about it is all looking back and it smells scary and there are all these voices talking at the same time and the trees are shaking and it is very nice and it is not very nice and so you stay close to the ground. I don’t care if that’s entirely hyperbole because some way that’s the only mode to speak about a thing that seems from somewhere else. All in all this one long massive monologue about a young dead country singer is something to be taken in long bursts with smaller moments of recognition compiling one after another trying to catch up, somewhere between Frank Stanford and your granddaddy underground. Line by line the thing moves like it’s waking itself up and going to sleep again over and over, ransacking words and images both for their age and for their passing, over and over again. A torrent more so a poem, as there’s all these words to say and so little time. Abe Smith doesn’t get wily nily for being so far in there, he just keeps coming and you’ll take it on the face and figure it out later or not at all. Here is a magnificent transmission, designed from both way back and way ahead, to be read and read again.

[Available now from Action Books.]

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  1. lily hoang

      I just got HANK on Wednesday. I can’t wait to read it.
      Have you seen Abe read? Really, it’s extraordinary.

  2. Mike Meginnis

      The linked reading took place at my school. Was spectacular. Bought his book on the spot. Shook his hand. Etc.

  3. Scott mcclanahan

      Hank W. died fifteen minutes from my house. At least that’s where the kid who was driving his caddy pulled over and told someone he was dead. There’s a whole mythology around here of people who saw the Hank and the kid that morning.

      Nice post and I want this now. This looks great.

  4. Nicholas R
  5. Blake Butler

      thank you Nicholas, I added it to the post.

  6. Kyle Minor

      Wow. Impressed with this. Reminds me in some ways of Frank Stanford and in others of Maurice Manning.

  7. Sean

      I went to school with Abe and he was a poet 110% of the time. His reading style was wild. He wrote everything as poems, everything, like his email, etc.

      Cool, odd dude. Will check out the book.

  8. steven karl

      Great post Blake. I had not seen this footage- ‘tho saw him read a coupla times at AWP. This book has been in my “need to read & review” pile for a bit now. I read the Forklift, OH, chapbook which is an excerpt from this. I try & read his poems until I completely run out of breathe- it’s good times- like teasing choking or something.

  9. Nate Martin

      I saw Abe read last night in New Orleans. He was wearing an incredible all-over print button-down shirt covered in golf courses.

  10. Jake Mb Levine
  11. letters journal

      “Forget your chickens: they’ll haunt you, they’ll dandruff peg you with a devil’s meme (?).”

      “Spent so much time face down in games of chance.”

  12. Andrewshuta

      Yeah! I designed that book. Thanks for reviewing it.

  13. Andrewshuta

      + Abe is a badass dude and we like to compare our collections of cowboy shirts.

  14. Coldfront » Featured Readings-Atlanta Edition

      […] Presents hosts Gina Myers and Abraham Smith at 7 PM on Saturday, October 20th. The reading will be held at Front Gallery at […]

  15. Coldfront » VIDEO: Abraham Smith at Tryptich Reading Series, NYC

      […] out Abe’s collection ‘HANK‘ from Action Books! […]