Rod Smith taught and went to Georgetown’s MFA program simultaneously, without a B.A. thanks, as he says in an interview with Daniel Gutstein to Carolyn Forche and Joan Retallack. “What’s the Deal”, a chapbook from Smith vacillates on the colloquial phrase, as it becomes a wrench, a piece of culture accessible to all social and economic strata. “Deal” can be in reference to the President, Britney Spears, William H. Macy, the Padres, the Pope, and numerous others. The use of the word as metonym for speaker wanting to comprehend or provide content to the context of a situation lends Smith’s language to a languid flow, improvisation similar to Gena Rowlands in a Cassavettes film.
The use of punctuation gives an unconstrained rhythm, able to swiftly stop and go on surreal inquiries while enjambment keeps structure of the text. The architectural skeleton of how metonym or symbols for cultural/economic milieus fit like puzzle pieces in conjunction with lowercase letters and question marks, juxtaposes individual elements of American society for a more transparent view of its subconscious libido:
What’s the deal with Joe Satriani and Coldplay?
What Do The Fox News/Rasmussen
Reports’ Latest Opinion Polls Show?
What’s a Good Deal? Exactly how do you know
If you’re getting a good deal on Prince?
that would lead me to believe that
he likes women in his songs so . . . (4).
A coherent narrative is absent from Smith’s text, but an agency, a pervasive thread of thought continues to layer the function of the cliché as backdrop to a more serious investigation of current societal culture.
The text devolves through the poem into a more self-referential, comedic tone (One can already see the cackles received for the original musical performance at the D.C. arts center). The speaker questions their absurdist poetry, and “What’s the Deal” evolves into, “what the fuck does that mean?” Questions or inquiries however evolve to embellished lines such as, “Exotic Island Cutie Secret Thoughts,” “Gravytrain Lafayette,” and, “Dragonette Deed in the Eastern Silvertine Lodes . . .” (p. 8). The original (rhetorical) question becomes a way for Smith to create a decadent, rich language of performativity. Thus, literal lenses of “Windows Vista,” “high-stakes game of strip poker,” “Roleplaying dictator,” and, “ecstasy + what + deal” manifest as zany transplants of technocrats, gamblers, ruthless third world leaders and druggies.
Smith creates an alternate reality, which, in the last section becomes a cerebral and economic commentary on capitalist, laissez-faire America. A surreal scene with rubber duckies filling a campus in Sunnyvale leads to the sardonic irony of, “The story of psychic repression is quite complicated.” The speaker’s cliché almost becomes ritual, an image of head bobbing, “Amtrak rewards card,” to, “FICO Scoring and Other Credit Issues”. The last references to “drive around in your car,” and “under the sun” gives off a transitory, sentient, meandering linger of the “economic justificationer,” always perpetuating, existing in the so-called ‘personality’ or aura of America.
Matt Pincus was born and raised in San Diego, CA. He received his B.A. from Pitzer College in English and World Literature and is an M.F.A. Candidate at Naropa University’s Writing and Poetics program.