Jacob Cross

Review of Everything Neon by Bud Smith
North Hollywood: Marginalia Publishing, 2014. 182 pp. $9, paper.

Bud Smith's words toss fireworks down fire escapes and out into the city streets of his 2014 collection, Everything Neon. Other poems in the work glow like the book's namesake, steady and silent in their late-night beauty. Smith dares audiences to fall in love with this city of Neon. His agile perspective draws readers into a land etched in electricity.

What makes Smith's ideas reach light speed proportions? It probably starts with the trash, with "placing cracked records/on the turntable," as the poem "Between Liftoffs" explains. We can thank the "old magazines/left down on the radiator," "the backs of cereal boxes," and "Nintendo cartridges." There's a host of other common contaminants that fill Smith's time until an idea is "glowing deathly neon/to write about." Smith's writing has an evolved comfort from these waiting games. His verse offers a lived-in condition that feels like your favorite pair of sneakers.

Some of the best of Smith's poems achieve far more than still life, however. His narrative grace is the mark of an artist bound to bitter-but-mostly-sweet memory. The voice of a girl named "Spout" evokes love in these reflections. Whether she is singing "let's spend the night together" in the poem "It Snows" or calling for the narrator as she pours ginger ale, she is an approachable enigma.

In "Where You Were Dead," memory haunts the one who cherishes it. Here, stories of the narrator "punching a kid in the mouth" and "the way he bled on his white shirt/that said, 'Dino the Last Dinosaur," follow their adolescent trajectory into "a maze of pine." This is a place where "nothing feels as good as the first time." This subtle heartwrencher accomplishes narrative from fragmented thought that makes all the sense in the world.

Even the arrangement of the collection is marked by narrative recurrence and clever cunning. Six poems in the heart of the book abound with jukeboxes and midnight lover resolutions. The first of these, "Purple Gel Tab," ends with Spout arriving as the narrator sits in his car. He looks for "bleach that works on our lives" and "nostalgia sparks" in his car glovebox. Smith writes,"with a flick of the wrist/she turns the dial/and there is music," ending the scene with impromptu harmony.

The beat goes on in the next poem entitled "Sonny and Cher Sing 'I Got You Babe,'" but these verses derail into a refreshing dissonance. The "beer and jukebox music" make cameos in a setting equal parts danger and refuge. Smith writes "...we (the narrator and Spout) thin our blood/and float up over the saw blades/rotating around us, uselessly."

It's not just the patterns that make Everything Neon in Smith's work, but the surprises, the ironic, the poems that juggle flaming swords. "Your Changes Have Been Saved" offers up five stanzas as imaginative asides. Each one of these pieces is contrasting and unique in language, but still very much Smith. "blind date: /you'll recognize me right away./ I'll be the guy with the bubblegum in his hair/the suit of armor full of bullet holes/ the advice that doesn't line up." Another stanza reads, "let's leave this party: /are you available only in certain moonlight?/can we talk anyplace else besides the bathtub?" A shepherd of the most vital nonsense, Smith herds broken dialogues into wit.

Smith proves again and again throughout Everything Neon that "just when you expect nothing/ other than an execution/ new buds come out of the brick walls/ glowing unexpected green." Surprises sprout in the freshest ways when an imagination can reach out to grasp so much. Everything Neon shows audiences an urban poet who views the world in exquisite cross-sections.

You can purchase Everything Neon here.

Jacob L. Cross lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He studied creative writing and publishing at the University of Illinois Springfield, where he served as editor of The Popcorn Farm Literary Journal. His work has been featured in Still: The Journal, The Alchemist Review, and elsewhere. More recently, his poems are due for release in Clash by Night, a poetry anthology inspired by the punk staple, London Calling. He enjoys hiking with his wife, traversing Zelda dungeons, spoiling his dogs, and half-priced sushi.

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