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Suspending Time with The Profound M

Review: By Christopher Scott Buck

I’ve been spending quality time with the recently published book The Profound M a volume of poems by Tamsin Smith paired with found photos from the collection of Matt Gonzalez. The book was published this summer by FMSBW Press. FMSBW is the publishing effort of Matt Gonzalez. I still don’t know what those letters stand for but I’m not opposed to some mystery in my life.

Profound M front cover lighter hipsta.jpg

Front cover, The Profound M. Photographer unknown. Collection of Matt Gonzalez.

For those new to found photography, Wikipedia defines it as “photographs, usually anonymous, that were not originally intended as art but have been given fresh aesthetic meaning by an artist’s eye.” They can be incorporated or merged within other art pieces or stand alone on their own merits. Some bands have used found photography on album covers. Thinking here of my two favorites: Beirut Band’s ‘Gulag Orkestar’ (2006) and ‘The Flying Club Cup’ (2007). 

Gonzalez’s Intro opens with a quote from André Breton and what he meant by the “Profound M”. The phrase refers to Memory, a theme stated by Gonzalez that ties the vintage snapshot photos together throughout the book, with the accompanying poems by Smith. Gonzalez outlines the reasons these talismins capture our interest and the growing recognition that snapshots are contemporary art objects.

Smith’s Poetry

Less familiar terrain for me was Tamsin Smith’s poetry. Though I own a couple of collections of her poetry ‘Between First and Second Sleep’ and ‘Displacement Geology’ (both published by FMSBW), I had yet to do the deeper dive her poetry deserves.


In ‘The Profound M’, Smith’s poems are paired across the page from the images, which she selected for this publication, and Gonzalez’s guidance was pitch perfect:


“These brief moments in time are augmented by Tamsin Smith’s beautifully evocative poems.

They are not meant to be literal, as if describing the action of the photograph; in fact, they would fail if they were to try. The poems offer a fresh way of looking at the photographs, an entry way into viewing their hidden mysteries.”

Some of my favorite lines of poetry in this volume are found in “The Turn” (p. 36) and it’s no coincidence that the same three lines are repeated on the back cover, a fact I failed to notice until long after I had jotted the lines down into my notebook:

     We used to wear our poems so tight

     Anyone could tell

     Just by looking       

Profound M back cover lighter hipsta.jpg

We’ll sink the trowel a bit more deeply into Smith’s poems in a bit. We really have two efforts to review here, the visual and the poetic. Each deserves their due.

Bonus points to San Francisco based painter Emilio Villalba for pushing for the image of the floating beach balls in the pool, to serve as the book cover (pg 6). This detail was gleaned by paying attention to their Instagram posts. Your next three follows should be: @slipstreamer11 / @fmsbw / @emilio_villalba


Scavenger Hunt

In the close to the Intro, Gonzalez reveals that all but three of the photographs in this volume are anonymous, with these three images coming from the families of Smith and Gonzalez. This is why you should never skip an Intro – challenge accepted! I’ve picked out two from Gonzalez, and I’m circling back again to finger the third, for Smith. Scavenger hunt!

Origin Story

My first memory of learning that someone thought it was cool to collect random, found photos from flea markets was from a substitute art professor in college.

In college I had started building my own library through countless hours spent in the book sections of Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift stores. I got my B.A. in English from the University of Iowa. My undergrad Rhetoric teacher, Lan Samantha Chang, is now the Director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Following college I did the same library building at low-end flea markets and it wasn’t long before I found myself handling old random photos.

Having very little money, I couldn’t spend more than a dollar or two, per image. Sometimes you could get a handful, maybe five images for five bucks. That was a good day. Big time collecting to me was paying $10 or even $20 for an image.

After some years of collecting a variety of found photos, I even bought a big picture frame with different shape-size cut outs and filled it with some of my found photos. It was a multi-generational portrait of my fictional family. When my actual family was visiting, I tucked it away to avoid having to explain myself – no relatives of ours had paid to watch the killing of bulls at a Plaza de Toros or stood for portraits next to dead bucks hanging by their hind legs. We had a fine family history and Dad kept antique guns in a glass display case in our blue-collar dining room, but the Bucks were not hunters.

My Collection

As San Francisco’s Urban Forester/City Arborist, my found photo collection began to take shape, focusing on people enjoying trees and other forms of the natural world. Families seemed to love getting on their Sunday best and standing in front of the nearest tree at hand, to commemorate various events.

I also collect old found snapshots of natural landscapes and wilderness – without people present -- as if to tuck it away for evidence, to prove it all really did exist not too long ago. I hid them, protecting them with the same level of care as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault does its seed bank in the Arctic.

The Process

Part of the enjoyment of browsing found photographs for me is the process of searching, sifting, and sighing through them all to find a few keepers, with the feeling that the current world is passing you by. It’s like reading a good story or listening to music – you can put aside your own conditions to live a while in another’s world, eventually returning to yourself.

I sniffed them out in other locations too, like at the edge of the Tenderloin, in that little storefront space on Larkin called “The Magazine” where you stand at times shoulder to shoulder with others thumbing through old magazines – not all of them erotic – there were art books and back issues of art magazines too, and under one shelf, I spotted a couple of boxes of found photos, reasonably priced.

Walking out of that shop with a couple of found photos and tucking them into my pocket, to be warmed by the chest, walking back through the Tenderloin to my alley, that was the City at its best. Will a stranger tuck me away and carry me home too, someday?

Andre Breton dedication.JPG

Opening dedication, The Profound M.

Enjoying the Curated

Can you still enjoy found photographs if presented in a volume like ‘The Profound M’ or within a gallery setting? The answer is yes, of course, but it is a different experience. One of the strengths of the ‘Profound M’ is the large number of snapshots included – plenty to flip through.

Contents May Settle

But what of the images themselves? Only now am I realizing that people are in nearly every image of ‘The Profound M’ and even those contain human objects such as beach balls, an auto, a caged bird. One of the many joys of the found photo collector, even if you don’t yet realize you’re a collector, is that you can specialize in the obscure, glory in the common.

The Tinkerer, the Thinker and the Entrepreneur

What has Smith curated from Gonzalez’s collection of found photography? There is something here for the tinkerer, the thinker and the entrepreneur. The visual impact is to lift up, elevate, honor the indomitable will of the individual – if ultimately rescued from obscurity we’ll never know, but we can view them in their quiet moments, in their heroic feats of strength and movement, or as they clown around with friends. Framed by the dark backdrop of history and multiple wars, there is a diversity of people and experiences which makes this collection familiar – kind of feels like the San Francisco Bay Area – diversity rich – what the rest of the country will resemble in years to come.

If this visual description is too “feel good” for you, no worries, Dr. Feelgood is present among many of these images with smoke in the air, drinks poured, people getting their groove on. Feeling it. And the day after? That too. The Surreal is also present, cutting down the horizon like de Chirico’s distant train.

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Photographer & subjects unknown, p. 28. Opposite the poem "The Joust".

Smithsonian Worthy

Several of the snapshots in this collection are Smithsonian worthy. As it turns out many of these photos were purchased by Gonzalez from Robert E. Jackson, whose collection was exhibited at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. in 2007. The show was titled “The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978: From the collection of Robert E. Jackson.” Though it is not the end goal with most found photography, see my “Companion Appendix” to learn which images stood out to me as Smithsonian quality.

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Photographer unknown, p. 128, opposite the poem "The Good Year".

Consumers of the Visual

As a species, humans are massive, constant consumers of the visual. It’s clearly hardwired into our genes, into our natures. Our survival depended on it. Even before television or the Internet, one needed to “read” the landscape, constantly assess one’s surroundings and conditions, from the ground near our feet to distant signs in the sky.

One reason for the success of television, the Internet, the visual arts, magazines and even advertising, is that humans can’t help but consume the visual. Try resisting it sometime. How else to explain our ability to scroll and click through the visual? How many times have you pushed yourself until your phone finally fell from your hands – only sleep, saving us from a total information blackout? How is your food and shelter trending? Visual checks of one’s status in the immediate environment is a genetic trait. Now we’ll even do it from street corners, glancing down at our smart phones, for a quick check. How should I feel about the day so far? We no longer read our surroundings, we assess it on mobile devices.

What to Consume?

Greatly influenced by the writings of Thoreau, Gary Snyder, and Wendell Berry, and the real-life examples of aunts & uncles, the decision to learn the names of the trees around me had as much to do with the aesthetic as it did the political. I just didn’t want to visually consume the human-made, human-created, my entire life.

We have to visually consume something in life. What did society and commercial culture point us to? Whatever it was, I would search out its antithesis. Coming of age in the New England suburbs of the 1980s, experiencing a transformational college exploration of the self in the country’s Mid-western subconscious surrounded by squared-off counties and regimented rows of agriculture, I joined my love in New York City and declared my calling: trees.

Before I stuffed my English degree in the chipper and began at the bottom, dragging brush for tree companies, I worked in photography. One of the best jobs I ever had was as Assistant Manager for a 60-minute, photo-developing store on the edge of campus. The other employee was the Manager. On the weekends, I ran the show all by myself. Firing up the machines, checking and adjusting the chemicals, lining the register with cash, carefully pinning on my Assistant Manager nametag before opening for the day.

Hair wash.jpg

Photographer & subject unkown. p. 84, The Profound M. Opposite the poem "Rasberry Humingbird Sundown"

Signs of Life

I was searching for signs of life among all those photos, stocking the pond with potential found snapshots for the future. And yes, of course we had to look at the photos to develop them – we had to peer through an eyepiece and select the correct exposure level for development. We’d have to redo a few images every few rolls to maintain the quality control or blow off stray lint that showed up as a white squiggle.

Kerouac’s Scroll

The automatic tray of photos rolled out like Kerouac’s scroll to On the Road in front of the customer counter opposite the front door in one continuous strip before being cut into 4x6” images. This nearly public display wasn’t done to show how high-quality our services were: it was to cut down on the nudity. My boss was recently married and a new father; he was a fervent follower of the company’s “no nude photos” corporate policy. On the weekends, when I was in charge, I adhered to the individual’s right to the freedom of expression.

The greatest roll I ever developed (24 exposures) was from a middle-aged woman I’d refer to back then as a bit fussy. The roll of photos was boring from the start and nearly to the finish. Not just photos of family gatherings at Thanksgiving but including the holidays and even Easter. The roll had been sitting around in the camera for nearly a year and this was the best she could do? But with the final image on the roll, the entire Midwest was redeemed: a single image of the dutiful family photographer, fully nude on a full-length flotation device, in the center of an above-ground pool, sun at high noon, and she was holding a drink and wearing just shades and the most genuine smile I have ever seen. Oh joy! Oh life!


When I moved to New York City to be with my love and to continue learning the names of the trees around me, my first job out of college was with a stock photography company called Photonica. Hands down, it was the most artistic in the industry, had its office just beyond the shadow of the Flatiron building on 5th Ave., and in the 1990s, if there was an image on a book cover, it was likely from Photonica.


Book cover photo: Stuart Simons/Photonica.

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Photonica catalog 13. Circa 1994.

Snow Falling on Cedars

I was a photo researcher, helping our sales reps fulfill requests for the specific and the obscure. When I found the photo that landed on the cover of the best seller, ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ by David Guterson, who could know that it would become the no. 1 Best Seller and win literary awards?

A few months later I walked by the giant windows to the flagship Barnes & Noble on 5th Ave. A massive blow-up of the book, and mountains of the novels stacked in pyramids behind the glass, the same full-cover image repeated before me like a kaleidoscope. When I fulfilled the request months before, we didn’t have any images of snow falling on cedars. We had some pines in fog. Close enough, I thought. It was a great image by Stuart Simons and we sent the 70mm transparency up 5th Ave via bike messenger to the publisher.

I share some of these origin stories to disclose that I have always enjoyed photography, the image, long before I discovered trees. Despite my English degree, if was my study of leaf morphology, not just my comfort with the Latin names for trees, that allowed me to succeed in the world of urban tree management -- something I didn't even know was a thing. I was the greatest unknown amateur botanist in NYC, and Photonica was expanding to the West Coast. My partner and I moved to San Francisco. I moved there for the redwoods and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. 

Dented Universe

A year ago I viewed “Dented Universe” (p. 157) on social media, shared by Gonzalez, and studied it quite a bit, with that bow and arrow parallel to the shadow of the person holding it,  aiming at nothing we could see, and the chance, mystery-infused cropping. When The Profound M was released this year, my pump had been primed.

Photographer, subject, target and year unknown, p. 157.

Smith’s Poetry

In this collection of poems, Smith’s verse is more earthborn than celestial. The found photos and poems all contain people or reference people within the images and poems. There’s also a veritable arc of fauna, wild and domestic, found in both the visual and poetic. Water, in all its forms, binds the two. Sure the heavens and the stars are invoked, as they should be from time to time, but the enduring vision is towards the earth beneath our feet and our surroundings. No coincidence, I just realized, that another collection of Smith’s poetry is titled Displacement Geology.

What’s not present in the poetry, in these found photos? Many institutions are pleasantly absent among the found photos but the verse contends with these three: histories of war, oppression and discrimination. It took me a while to make this observation about the visual and the lack of institutions found among them. One exception is an urban school playground (p. 142). This lack of institutional or governing presence among the images is consistent with the theme of the poetry and snapshots: the dignity of the individual and their search for self, at times with the natural world as guide, at times with just a thread of intuition to cling to (“Awake Awake p.45”, “Semaphore p. 75).

This volume also contains poems of desire, poems of friendship, poems of family, poems of poems, and poems of war, history and culture.

Two poems of history and culture form a sonic boom and meet us on a New York City dance floor in the early 1970s with beats thumping in the poem “The Turn” (p. 39) and LSD dissolves some edges of the Cold War in “October 1969” (p. 57). What happened to the quiet contemplation securely in place in the other poems? These two poems knock our stockings off, remind us that the ‘60s and ‘70s actually happened, and left marks visual and hidden.

Additional poems of war or isolation are present in  “Another Cure At Troy” p. 33, “Pacific Theater” p. 77, and “Semaphore” p. 79, with this latter poem offering hope:

     Your mother sang in a language she

     Had just begun to speak and no flag

     Much less two to wave together

     Not to surrender but to signal

     Peace as visible

Regarding poems of poems, I found plenty of references to poetry and verse, and even what I liken to a playful update to Browning’s “A Grammarian’s Funeral” is the poem “The Lioness Dispatches” (p. 95) which is such a warm post-modern ode to a respected editor. The photo across the page is perfect. I imagine the person to be an editor, rubbing face with a smile and thinking “oh no she didn’t,” knowing full well, she sure did.

Photographer, subject, year and place unknown p. 95.

How I spent my time with The Profound M

This summer, shortly after the book arrived in the mail, after my first extended sit down with the book, I didn’t know what I would write, I just knew that I wanted to write about it. It took a few more months to find the time necessary for a close review.

Because light is faster than the speed of thought, I naturally experienced the photos faster than the words. Then I returned to enjoy both the poetry and snapshots together. The final step was to read the poems with no images in mind to prove what I already knew: the poems clearly stand on their own without the photos. Only then could I ask myself, what do both contain?

With 91 poems included in The Profound M, this is a substantial volume of poetry. By comparison, Smith’s Displacement Geology contains 45 poems. On average, the poems are shorter here, as they need to fit across the page from each image, and many are a half-page or less.

The Narrative

There is a responsibility to the strangers in these found snapshots, to choose words carefully. As Gonzalez outlined in the Intro, “these photographs are only ‘found’ insofar as they have been dispersed after the original owner of the keepsakes, or the families of who treasured them, were no longer able to store them safely.” I reflected quite a bit on the factors that place these snapshots in estate sales or flea markets vs. the anonymous garbage bins of humanity. How do the images survive and who gets to tell their story?

Enter the poet

The poem “All Sorts Plus Weather” (p.51) answers this challenge. The poem is across the page from an image of a young white woman drinking from a public fountain in the middle of a well-maintained park. Taken in the 1940s, the cultural-historical reference to any fountain in a black & white photo has to conjure images of our country’s history of segregation and racism. The image-thought comes to mind immediately of two fountains, with a sign above each, one states “colored” and the other states “white”.

In the shadowy background, in deeper shade, there are people sitting on a bench, race and ethnicity indiscernible. The poet writes:

     Pure white swan of coy permission

     Fairytales and public parks happily

     Belonging ever after assured. . .

     . . . We do not see your fists but hope

     Perhaps they clench beyond

     Our view and your own story

     Simmer for the unquenched

     Characters of shared history

I value Smith’s truth telling in what others might have described as a Surrealist dream in the foreground of this image. Not dream, but the nightmare of reality for many, who would require permission to drink from this public font. Other images in this collection touch on the Surreal, but this is not one of them. It’s a quick snapshot, but we can only enjoy its aesthetics when we imagine the subject to be simmering with social, political and economic justice for the oppressed.

"All Sorts Plus Weather" p. 51.

The first half of this poem directly references masking up during the pandemic, and while the writer pauses behind her “filter” to consider the meaning of safety, when the verse above follows, the filter also represents the lens through which each individual views their world. Left unsaid, I think this poem is also a statement about who chose to mask up right away, not just for personal safety, but for the safety of those most vulnerable, and those who continue to do more than just grumble about masks and freedom.

Cover Girl

Accepting the responsibility to speak to these images was no small assignment that Smith assumed when she curated this collection of images. Another deft touch is in “Cover Girl” (p. 69) where a young woman of color sits on a couch, hiding her face behind a glamour magazine featuring a headshot of a white fashion model, nearly in place of her own.

     The struggle to be

     Always has been

     Even more so perhaps

     In the age of gloss

After the 2nd and 3rd developing stanzas the poem closes:

     But your warm brown limbs

     Reveal where beauty originates

     Elbows and a mind that knows

     Pages don’t turn themselves

"Cover Girl" p. 68.

From an Americana perspective, this is a great living room setting, with contrasting patterns jumping off the couch and curtains. A sisterhood poem at first, but now that I’m looking at the magazine cover more closely, the model is also holding an infant. So now it’s a motherhood poem – the need to look like a cover girl even while parenting? As a man, I can attest that the age of gloss finally started arriving to our own screens – no shortage now of people telling me through image and text, how to be. Have we come a long way, baby?

The poet could not write this collection without squaring the aesthetic gifts found in the images with the historical fact that these were not taken in “the good old days” or when America used to be “greater” than it isn’t now. This history is present here, in the poems. But the most substantial theme found in these poems and in the images is personal growth and transformation – an individual’s search for their own identity or meaning, which transcends history and politics, even when those forces form most of the mold.

Back to the scavenger hunt

Placing three snapshots of their own into this collection, is both a fun scavenger hunt for the reader-viewer and allows us to reflect on how our own snapshots may someday end up in the hands of strangers -- the impermanence of possession.


“Lion of the Subdivision” (p. 140)

My take is that this is Matt Gonzalez as a young kid in McAllen, Texas. What makes me believe so? From being a regular reader of Gonzalez and having viewed his found photos on social media, I have seen similar photos of his hometown. It’s a classic shot of a young American subdivision. I love the striped shirt – but the background orderliness of the street, sterile and devoid of trees, and makes me think that the stripes that were so popular in the ‘70s were an attempt to tame the amorphous disorder of the paisley and psychedelic ‘60s.

Smith’s poem confirms my hunch, referring to Gonzalez’s collage art and puts this image in context, highlighting what the coveted suburbs lack:

     Steady eyes in an era

     Said to be simpler

     Simply for having

     Cleaner streets

     Meaning less

     Material to


     Into art

"Lion of the Subdivision" p. 140. 

“Faun’s Afternoon” (p. 136)

Young boy with lanky cat around his bare skin neck like a fur scarf. The likeness to Gonzalez didn’t strike me at first, but the poem did. References to Marx, studying law and philosophy, Mallarmé a French symbolist poet, the word “exquisite” in opening line referencing the Surrealist pastime of cadavre exquis, the method of collective assemblage of words resulting in the unusual. Reference to poets “There is a reason that poets give homage to wild creatures”. Riffing off the crockery, Smith’s poem packs so much into this furtive punch. But is this Mateo or brother Charles, that future Indiana musical collaborator to poet Jack Micheline?

"Faun's Afternoon" p. 136 

“Raccoon in the Old Grove” (p. 16)

I believe this is the poet Tamsin Smith as a young kid, based on her poetry, she grew up around animals and clearly was a kid who carried sticks and twigs around in her hair, spreading the seeds of field and forest by tunneling and helping us get back to our own secret spaces. Like animals that change patterns or transform, at their own pace, their own rhythms, Smith makes that connection to a young girl cutting her bangs and playing in her mother’s dress.

     Is the answer to why you did not play

     With dolls but loved animals…  

     The verse continues for a few lines and ends with this sweetness:

     And the poem a man will write

     One day to assure you

     He sees you standing there

Is this the poet Tamsin Smith? p. 16.

Favorite poem:

Deep Song” (p. 179)

With its prowess of poetry and prose, the phrase “predation may pulse the pattern” and “she is young / can still love / her body” and an enigmatic finish “look at the size of you”.

"Deep Song" p. 179

The Big Glean

The portal to this collection of poetry by Smith is best glimpsed through her previous collection of poetry ‘Displacement Geology’ and the poem “Uncertainty Factor” (p.40). The line “Memory is an organ of selection” jumped out at me as speaking to ‘The Profound M’ and these found photos and poems and references to the Surreal. While it is often necessary to attempt to define poems, a poet, or even what a single snapshot may mean, I still like some uncertainty in my life. Here is the close to the poem:

     All around us are examples of Nature’s rightness

     If not exactness—

     Memory is an organ of selection

     She speaks in portals

     I harmonium

     Sequitur non sequitur

I like when people acknowledge the uncertain, suggested in the title of this poem and other lines within it. Not to the point of conspiracy but from a place of basic humility in having to move through this world.

With that disclaimer, no review could be taken seriously if it lacked the dreaded opining of poetic influence. I like reading poets who teach me new words or associations, cause me to look things up. That’s the case with Tamsin Smith’s poetry, but not unnecessarily so. Poets should be a bit more well-read than the reader. You shouldn’t be more flexible than the yoga instructor.

On poetic influence, it was as easy as this: which poet did I pick up and read more of, while reading this collection, and while contemplating this review? Hands down, it was that former resident of my hometown, Wallace Stevens.

There are some breadcrumbs. Like Smith’s bio on IG: “Poet Whistling. Or just after.” A clear reference to “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and the use of the word “Harmonium” in the poem above, which is the title to Stevens’ own collection of verse, published back in 1923. The “I harmonium” also referencing Dylan Thomas’ historical novel I, Claudius. The double reference like an inside-out, outside-in Escher painting, a Mobius strip Venn diagram. Where does influence start and stop?  

What do I think of Smith as a poet? This is what I think. There are two extreme examples of the urban cyclist. One is unsteady, looks over their shoulder, and should not be on the road. You spot them a block away they make you so uncomfortable.

Then there is a cyclist that is cruising along, steady with the bars, confident, focused on what’s ahead. Minding the small potholes and merging and threading pedestrians and autos. Maybe gets cut off too, but it’s the streets, doesn’t even waste energy or think to flip the bird. You trust them because they know what they’re doing. So much so, you’d even try to keep up. Follow. In their slipstream. With no intention to pass.

In life, the poet Tamsin Smith is involved with environmental advocacy and is also a painter. But Melville wasn’t referring to her when he wrote the famous line “heed it well, ye Pantheists,” in Moby Dick, when the narrator nearly falls from the crows nest while gazing out across the ocean, becoming a little too enthralled with the visual, too focused on the Sublime. Smith isn’t navel gazing at nature, she is studying it, incorporating it. Looking beneath the surface of both flora and fauna, picking up lessons from these interactions. @slipstreamer11 isn’t going to slip from the crow’s nest.

The fault lines and fractures found in Smith’s poetry are speaking to more than geology. They trace and define the social and the historical, and the political, within our attempts as organizing societies.

Nothing wrong with Latin

The Director of the Iowa Writers Workshop, Lan Samantha Chang, back many years ago when she was my undergrad Rhetoric professor, observed that I used a lot of Latinate words in my writing. I didn’t even know what that meant so I had her explain the comment. That’s when I realized how much each word matters. Perhaps it’s also why I’ve been drawn to the poetry of Gary Snyder, with his use of more Germanic, one-syllable words, to help train my own ear. Then again, it was just an undergrad Rhetoric class, not a poetry workshop.

Guess who else mixes the Latinate with the Germanic? Wallace Stevens. Smith too, uses many short, lone-syllable, chisel strikes with her words than the longer, multisyllabic. To “eliminate” the Latinate would be to hate language. It all needs to be in play. I would also add mathematic and geometric and scientific to describe some of the words that often crop up in Smith’s poetry, and to good effect. Science ascendant. With the musical, to soften the edges.

Referring to a poet as a Language poet or Imagist poet is like referring to an athlete as athletic. Caution, poem ahead! Language involved, may conjure images.

We all have to consume the visual in life and decide (or not!) what that will be. All poetry and all language are visual and conjure images. I’d argue that the poetry across the page from the images in The Profound M are more visual than the photos themselves.

In the opening dedication to The Profound M, are the words from André Breton that Surrealism will usher us into death. My call and response is that everything will usher us into death. The secret societies and mystery he hints at in the rest of the quote might not be too secret after all.

Snapshot photos and poems are attempts to stop time, to hold onto memory and thought. These found photos and the poems gathered here, have slipped the knot, and will live on, destinations unknown.

Appendix (bonus notes)

P. 28, “The Joust”. I wish to hold this up as one of the best surrealist photos I have ever seen, like a companion to Giorgio De Chirico’s “Mystery and Melancholy” with its train, vanishing point geometries, and its figures of woman and man, faces turned away from the camera.

P. 58, “Half-unworthy, half-divine”. The car racing by, with the blurred motion of the auto, the prominent and classic figure of a man in foreground to the right, looking like he’s on his cell phone, additional figures in the distance to his right. What at first I thought was a stand of trees in the background is a tall, rickety fence. 

P. 84, “Rasberry Hummingbird Sundown”. Woman with hair in the wash basin. All-time favorite.

p. 96, “Figurehead.” A young woman suspended in air and time, perfect pose, over a tree-lined horizon, an old car, and full size trampoline. A dead tree’s silhouetted branches jutting in on the left and the car in the distance seal the deal, but the pose is picture perfect. As the poet Smith suggests in her companion poem, like the figurehead on a the prow of a ship, or a note shot clear from a trumpet.

P. 106, “Exposure”. You can’t overlook the whimsy when just one-half of an image is exposed. Keep eyes out for the double exposure.

P. 128, “The Good Year”. A Good Year blimp against overcast clouds, horizon line along the bottom with a man’s hat in front foreground – straight to the National Gallery with this one, to compete with the best photography ever taken.

P. 134, “Prophesy”. Woman standing still in the lake. Selective sepia tone focus, a study of light and stillness, bubbles in water captured for all time. “Light of an ancient August…the conscious Mind…your wild and curious twin returns.”

P. 142, “Tag”. Children on a playground. A background of brick brutalism, no sky showing but full sun present. Kids at play and in motion. A Time Life photo. “We used to know our own / Speed – said we’d never / Slow down”


Epiphany: The pro-FOUND M. Found. Found memories. Here’s to making and finding more of them, wherever photos and poems may be found.


To purchase a copy of the The Profoud M:

To read more poetry by Tamsin Smith or view her painting:

A shorter, more humane version of this review can be found on Medium:

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