A debut collection of playfully irreverent ekphrastic poems inspired by the author’s engagement with art, architecture and music
Action in the Orchards explores ekphrastic poetry and its possibilities through experiences and encounters, with art and architecture, with friends and lovers, with our own pasts and futures, how they intersect with language, and how language acts as a filter through which our relations to experiences are communicated. Fred Schmalz follows the energy of those exchanges, in hopes of witnessing new opportunities for language. Formally experimental and musical, the poems coalesce through a kaleidoscopic mix of speech fragments, elision, mistranslation, collage, appropriated language, dream transcription, and wordplay.
Action in the Orchards asks what it means to be an artist. And the answer itself is in action: the action of attentiveness to the art that most engages us. The action of experiencing art not as a critic but as a maker. Through observation, through intimacy, and through embodiment, Fred Schmalz shapes a poetics of engagement, a poetics that rejects solipsism and isolationism, a poetics that seeks to “trap the sky in its present state”, a poetics of documentation and absorption, where care and cognizance are transformed by the pulsing rhythm of how pain enters, of how language makes life out of loss.
From Chicago writer and artist Fred Schmalz comes the utterly charming full-length poetry debut, Action in the Orchards (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2019), a collection of poems that very pointedly seeks to respond to the question of what artists of any kind should be doing (the answer, it would seem, is very simple: make art). Given the wealth of conversations and subjects poetry has been exploring a bit more lately, that answer might appear rather obvious, and yet, the question of what a poem can do specifically, is one that is as old as writing itself. If, as Auden wrote, poetry makes nothing happen, perhaps the answer is entirely in emphasis: poetry makes nothing happen.