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Nobody knows bad ideas quite like Michael V. Smith. In his new collection of poetry, he speaks to an intangibility of sense, or a sense beyond the rational. Bad Ideas explores the inevitability of loss and triumph with characteristic irony and tenderness. Through this dazzling collection of a remembered life, hung out to ogle like laundry on the line, Smith recalls a mother who discovers a sex tape, a man who dreams of birthing his own son and a woman who blends her baby girls into milkshakes.
Bad Ideas is a testament to how an altered perspective effects change, how stories can be recast. The collection forms itself into an exercise in which optimism is a practiced art recaptured in dreams and prayers and combined to acknowledge the unknowable, the contradictory, the ungraspable: “An evening is composed / in a hundred unchoreographed / dramas”; “I pull a Clark Kent / transform, dressed as a monk / in burgundy and gold robes. I think / this will protect me, but it doesn’t”; “Dear Hatred, sweet / Hatred, do you not move our enemies / to know us better?” Hyperbolic and sincere, this collection brawls with the unquantifiable themes of family, loneliness and love.
A memoir about breaking out of gender norms and breaking free of a hurtful past.
Michael V. Smith is a multi-talented force of nature: a novelist, poet, improv comic, filmmaker, drag queen, performance artist, and occasional clown. In this, his first work of nonfiction, Michael traces his early years as an inadequate male—a fey kid growing up in a small town amid a blue-collar family; a sissy; an insecure teenager desperate to disappear; and an obsessive writer-performer, drawn to compulsions of alcohol, sex, reading, spending, work, and art as a means to cope and heal.
Drawing on his work as an artist whose work focuses on our preconceived notions about the body, this disarming and intriguing memoir questions what it means to be human. Michael asks: How can we know what a man is? How might understanding gender as metaphor be a tool for a deeper understanding of identity? In coming to terms with his past failures at masculinity, Michael offers a new way of thinking about breaking out of gender norms, and breaking free of a hurtful past.
A short interview about My Body Is Yours in the Coastal Spectator: Candid memoir unpacks gender, sexuality.
Interview by Trevor Corked.
Interview by Tara-Michelle Ziniuk in Quill & Quire.
Profile on Daily Xtra!
Review by Drew Rowsome.
Review in the Vancouver Sun.
Review in Plenitude Magazine.
Since her fiancé’s death at eighteen, Helen Massey has spent her life avoiding it. Change comes when her town is only months away from being thirty feet under water. A government agency, The Power Authority, is relocating the entirety of her hometown to make way for a power dam project. What can’t be moved will be torn down. Even the cemetery is to be dug up and reinterred nearby.
While visiting her lover’s grave, Helen witnesses a man fall to his death on the power dam worksite. “He fell like a sack, straight down, with one arm waving in circles. He fell past the other workman strapped into a harness who must have been surprised to see him pass. Mocking the air. It seemed he fell without a sound.”
That same day, her brother returns unannounced after a fifteen-year absence. Robert Massey was a runaway. The construction made his homecoming a “now or never” decision, he tells his sister. “I didn’t want to have to come back in a boat to see the family home.”
When Robert discovers his parents kept the reasons for his departure a secret—too little has changed—he confesses, hoping his sister might bury the past. So begins their transformations. The siblings must negotiate their shared history, and their differences, if they are to find themselves a future.
“An edgy, heart-stopping book of poems. Michael V. Smith wakes you up to the world with all its aches and wonders. He’s a smart, brave master of the breath and tongue, and in this, his first poetry collection, he struts and strides on poetry’s high heels, giving us his own unique take on what language transforms into an extraordinary life.” – Lorna Crozier
The poems in What You Can’t Have challenge propriety and undo the trappings of shame. From the children who yearn for a knowledge and experience elusive to them, to the adolescents who struggle with hidden desires, to the adults unprepared for the world built around them, Michael V. Smith lends a quiet grace to his subjects’ struggles to satisfy their needs.
Confessional, intimate, and willing to spare nothing to reveal the truth of our shared failings and small triumphs, Smith’s poems unapologetically reveal a world full of tenderness, wit and compassion.
“I’m not lingering over a turn of phrase here, but the fact of the book, the flipping through it, the returning to it, the showing it around, and finally, the wrapping my head around it, enjoying the pleasure of it, the tease of it, the let’s-see-if-we-can-get-away-with-this of it, makes me think about the queerness of concrete poetry.” – Matrix Magazine
Body of Text is a collection of concrete poems made by marrying poetry with body-based performance art and documentary photography. Dressed in a full black body-suit, Michael V. Smith is photographed by David Ellingsen in hundreds of poses which resemble Greco-Roman letters, Asian characters, hieroglyphs, or Rorschach inkblots. These are then arranged in book form, to a maximum of three images per page. In the same spirit of moving beyond language as heard in the sound poetry of Christian Bök, the poems in Body of Text occupy a liminal space between poetry and visual art. The body is made word, is made site, object and subject. The body is symbol.
Short-listed for the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award.
Cumberland is a small town story about loss and longing.
Ernest is a millworker who finds himself without a job, or prospects for one, at fifty-two. Bea is his girlfriend, a waitress at his favourite pub. Her teenage housemate, Amanda, meets Ernest’s buddy Nick and falls for him on the tail of dumping her boyfriend. Amanda baby-sits Nick’s eight-year-old, Aaron, who’s intimidated by Fletcher, the neighbourhood bully.
Cumberland is a spare but moving story about love, and ultimately hope, in lives limited by circumstance.
Set on the far edge of southeastern Ontario, Cumberland is a fictional town losing its industries in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The overlooked setting of a depressed industrial landscape explores the changing economy of small town life. Cumberland enters into CanLit as alive and telling and complex as Manawaka, Jubilee or Mariposa.
The characters live a life of deflation and endurance, in their contradictions and weaknesses, their subtle collapse and triumphs. Ernest’s secret life, Bea’s willingness to settle for less, Amanda’s bold determination to win Nick over, and Aaron’s torment at the hands of Fletcher reveal a side to human nature rarely seen in fiction. Cumberland is a fresh and candid exploration of desire, blurring the lines of identity.
Longing for companionship and comfort, Bea, Aaron, Ernest and Amanda satifsy their needs with what opportunity is available, despite the social cost. In a small town such as Cumberland, as in any urban centre, desire is liminal.
The ease with which the story is told, the straight-forwardness in style and frank approach belies the depth of character and human emotion held within the book¹s powerful moments. Written in a plain language, with a seemless narrative clarity, Cumberland is resonant with simplicity.