Jeremy Schmall’s Jeremy Schmall & The Cult of Comfort

Jeremy Schmall is the bioluminescent pancake maker behind the radical operation that calls itself The Agriculture Reader. If you haven’t read an issue of AGR, you’re going to want to do that. Jeremy Schmall & the Cult of Comfort, published by X-ing Books, is a 99-page collection with 48 poems. The book is supremely beautiful, like all of the objects from X-ing. And it’s tiny, which is awesome, because you’ll want to carry this book around with you, and throw it at people, and cause major social disruptions with it by your side, and hang out in the park afterwards, maybe with a couple beers, making funny faces in the dark.

Eloquently reckless, irreverent, and wired with the kind of imaginative wattage that sets even the most seasoned book thug on their MFA-ed ass, the poems in this book touch on everything from Super Mario Bros. to fingerbanging to the Myth of America. Here’s the second poem in the book, “If I have to read another poem”:

about a New England winter

I will break your goddamn teacup,

I said, and wanted to add “ta-daa.”

Or so I thought.

Then an elderly woman

punched me square in the gut.


The fuck you care why?

she said.

That’s how this book feels, and who doesn’t want to be a glutton for this kind of punishment? And there are other things: warmth, loneliness, anger, confusion, restlessness, and everything else. Open the book up anywhere and you’ll find something worth reading out loud to your friends. Such sustained high volume and lack of decorum can be traced to Schmall’s mastery of the full frontal assault. These poems open in midst of some physical, intellectual, or emotional misunderstanding that is associatively triangulated around for the rest of the poem, often veering into moments of hilarity and grief, and always leading to a moment that is equal parts epiphany and broken femur. And don’t plan on catching your breath. No. You shouldn’t be too comfortable. These poems resist passivity, which is good for poetry, and good for your heart.

In the headache it’s hard to even find tacos.

Nobody is watching

or somebody is always watching

but either way I’m terrified.

If you kill the goose, the goose is dead.

If you eat the sandwich, you absorb its life.

But put the pancake down.

I’m not sure what I should be feeling, and it’s exhilarating. These lines remind me of an epigraph from Heather Christle that appears in Mike Young’s We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough where she says, “Bewilderment is the new New Sincerity.” Bewilderment = wonder = awe = compassion = your soul is leaking all over the floor and it’s time to call your friends over and dance in it. There were moments reading this book when I wanted to run outside and start yelling, or jump over a car, or, like happened once in San Francisco, push some major electronics out of a second-story window. I felt invigorated. Not that there isn’t a tinge of callousness in places, but it seems more than appropriate in comparison to the actions of our great leaders. And in reaction to those leaders, this book carries a serious threat, and an even more serious optimism.

Be wary. Do not sacrifice

your solemnity to match the public mood.

Our miracles are always damaged

by the people & threatened by the empire

& willingly foregone for the hallucination

of total security. It is time

to understand true wealth.

Because what else are we doing here?

I’m asking.

Jeremy Schmall just asked you a question, and if you want to answer him, you’ll find his email address in the middle of a poem on page 96 of Jeremy Schmall & the Cult of Comfort. I can vouch for its validity, because the first thing I did after I read it was send a message to him. This is our exchange:

    Hi Jeremy.

    I’m reviewing The Cult of Comfort for HTMLGiant. Out of sheer curiosity I had to make sure the email address that pops up in the book is actually yours because I think that kind of frankness says a lot about the book as a whole. I guess that’s it.


    Hello, friend. Thanks for the email. Hope you’re enjoying the book. Looking forward to seeing the review. Let me know if you have any questions about it.

    Also, are you at Akron? I grew up in Dayton…


Pretty straightforward. But isn’t it nice, behind all our deflections and screens, to pick up a book and talk to someone? Regardless of whether it’s the Jeremy Schmall of the book’s title, or some other, much larger Jeremy Schmall from the wilds of Ohio, he makes me, through this book, feel maimed, which is some pretty close contact, and “only the maimed really understand beauty.”

You can read an interview with Jeremy Schmall and Ben Mirov at The Faster Times that mentions both crabmeat and Jason Molina, and in addition to CC, you can buy Jeremy’s chapbook Open Correspondence from the Senator, Vol. 1: But a Paucity of his Voluminous Writings, also from X-ing Books.

* * *

Nick Sturm is a graduate student in the NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts and assistant editor of the Akron Series in Poetry.


  1. Scott mcclanahan

      Schmall is the REAL DEAL.

  2. Scott mcclanahan

      Schmall is the REAL DEAL.

  3. Patrick Gaughan

      “Bewilderment = wonder = awe = compassion = your soul is leaking all over the floor.” This perplexes me, Nick. I don’t think these things directly pour into each other. I feel that when I’m most engaged and most in awe when reading a poem is when I read it the third time through and smack myself upside the head and say, “THAT’s what that means!” and I read it one more time in pure delight with new eyes, having deciphered the puzzle. Replace bewilderment with confusion. Does confusion = compassion? Never. Compassion comes with understanding.

  4. Nick Sturm

      I think everything you said is dead-on, but there’s a major distinction between bewilderment and confusion that does, at least in my head, make bewilderment ultimately equal compassion. Confusion is simply a lack of clearness, the state of not knowing, and it ultimately ends in something like anger or puzzlement for the reader. But bewilderment is more physical, like being temporarily disoriented, and when one recovers from that bewilderment, maybe after the third reading, like you say, then comes that new understanding, the moment of delight. I’d say that Dean Young and Mary Ruefle are two well-known poets who bewilder with a sense of compassion.

  5. Narc Twain – Music Musings - My Telegraph

      […] TS: Sometime in 2014, I found a poetry book poking out of the recycling bin of my apartment building in Brooklyn. It was a book called Cult of Comfort by (formerly NYC-based poet) Jeremy Schmall. I became totally enamored with this guy’s poetry — it voiced a paranoia and cynicism dealing with 21st century hyper-capitalism that already fills a lot of my waking thoughts, but he did it in a way I found very effortless and funny.  Reading that got me on a kick of writing lyrics in that vein, some of which directly reference or quote poems in his book. […]