Black Lawrence Press

The Death Metal Pastorals

The Death Metal Pastorals turns over the rolling green hills of the idyllic American landscape, excavates their violences, and attenuates the powers that live atop them. In Ryan Patrick Smith’s pastoral, “nothing works here but blood & radio,” and from page one, we know we’re entering a landscape at once more ominous and more vigilant than anything conjured by Spencer, Drayton, or Marlowe.

Smith’s poems upend the topography of the pastoral setting, peering through a “burning crop of disease”  to ask, “Where am I in the field that I give my will over to you?” Through a range of personas, from death metal swains to The Terminator’s Sarah Connor to Mister Rogers to a smartphone camera at a Black Lives Matter protest, Smith casts a piercing eye to the destructive structures of consumption, gendered violence, and white supremacy. As we enter this highly charged pastoral terrain, far from the bucolic or picturesque, we’re asked to inhabit these structures and then to work to live beyond them.


DEATHMETALPASTORAL

the last swain

            The stockyards are burning. The news breaks 
black-lunged, choir, radar.

            In jeans of robin’s egg I dressed myself today. 
In grass-rub & honey-dirt doe-freckling my dream calves.

            I woke up on a sofa in the garage of my employer’s land.
 I fanned my palms across my loamy beard.

            Before I woke I could see myself coming like sunrise, 
before I turned

            to TV & the yards were burning & I saw

            the whirlwind, network of blackbirds & buzzards / 
ravenous hawks.

            Now my hair now hide now nipples now loin now stomach 
& the many organs

            now heart & lungs now blood & milk

            are all burned away

            into the charred black tire rolling the screen & sky.

            Ruminant beauty, thinking flame,

            Keep going.

            Into flight.

            Into the meat of you I love.

Praise

  • THE DEATH METAL PASTORALS register a lament, caterwauling against entropy, violence, and subjection. Here, each blooming things fades, and what crests must also break. May the bleakness be fleeting, may the song-turned-cry of the lyric shake us out of our stupor—if only to become better conduits for our tears. Ryan Patrick Smith says it better anyhow: “Everything dies on a wave.”

    —Joshua Marie Wilkinson, author of SELENOGRAPHY, SWAMP ISTHMUS, THE COURIER'S ARCHIVE & HYMNAL, and MEADOW SLASHER
  • THE DEATH METAL PASTORALS is both requiem and radar. From the badassery of THE TERMINATOR’s Sarah Connor to the gentleness of Mister Rogers, these poems transmit a growling but tender music as they survey violence and document loss. With “wheels churning to the blast-beat death-drums in the tape deck,” Smith’s work unfurls in startling syntax and exquisite coiling sentences—a tessellation of birds, gold, ghosts, and fire—insisting that even in darkness we “keep going. Into flight.”

    —Simone Muench, author of WOLF CENTOS, ORANGE CRUSH, and with Dean Rader, SUTURE
  • “Everything dies on a wave,” writes Ryan Patrick Smith in a voice at once intimate and oracular, inscrutable and plain. But then, the oracle is always intimate, peering into your future by cracking open the chest of a starling to “track where the steam drifts in the light.” The poems in THE DEATH METAL PASTORALS would make meaning of the world and its brutalities, of nature and its corruption. If we see ourselves in these fields and hills, we are appalled: that hill is made of our city’s trash. These are grave, visionary poems, as dark as they are compelling. You will not walk away unchanged.

    —Shane Seely, author of THE SURFACE OF THE LIT WORLD, HISTORY HERE REQUIRES BALBOA, and Philip Levine Prize for Poetry winner THE SNOWBOUND HOUSE

Ryan Patrick Smith

Ryan Patrick Smith is a poet whose work has previously appeared in the Kenyon Review, Boston Review, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. He is an associate editor for Boulevard Magazine and teaches in the MFA in Writing program of Lindenwood University. A Kentucky native, he has lived in Lexington, Kentucky and St. Louis, Missouri; right now, he resides with his spouse in Connecticut. The Death Metal Pastorals is his debut chapbook.

Smith Author page

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