I Live in a Hut
Winner of the 2011 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize, selected by Matthea Harvey. The poems in S. E. Smith's debut collection are caffeinated, wildly comic, assured maximalist performances introducing such characters as three slutty bears, a horse thief named Dirk, Becky Home-ecky, and a pony of darkness. Divided into sections appropriately titled "Parties," "Beauty," and "Devastation," Smith's book is at once free-spirited, metaphysically inquisitve, and romantically exuberant: "If god wanted us to be strangers, why would he place us / next to each other in the movie theater and make us think / our knees are touching when they're really a few inches / apart? Looking at Anita Ekberg's breasts, we can see / the future. It is soft, pink, and frolics in a fountain / where the sea gods bathe their weary feet."
S.E. Smith holds degrees from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin and Carnegie Mellon University. She is the founding editor of OH NO magazine and her poems have appeared in Fence, jubilat, Best New Poets, and the Black Warrior Review, among others.
Why I Am Not Famous
Being that the shortcut to the only grocery store in town is smeared with blue
bottle flies and small dogs, I am forced to walk on Main Street.
The dressmaker knows my name because I commissioned a gown that I never
bought. I wanted blue bottle flies for the bodice and many stitches and it was
My ship was coming in, I thought. This was the idea, to watch the ship coming
in while wearing the gown, to watch the wrestle of the sea in it.
The ship I saw coming in was not mine. It belonged to my sister—we bear the
same coat of arms. The next day she was famous. She came to my hut by limousine.
“Let’s buy the dress together,” she said. “We can go Dutch.” I told her I would
never go Dutch with her on anything. “I’ll buy it myself,” she said. I could do
nothing to stop her as she was already famous at this point.
So my sister bought the gown. She wore it on television the next day. It looked
so fabulous, they put her at the end of the parade instead of the mayor’s ironweed
float. I watched my sister through dark glasses. I, too, had been practicing for
The next day, my sister took the gown back. It was so fabulous she couldn’t wear it
again. I tried to buy it back, but the dressmaker said such a thing was impossible.
She put on her earphones and embroidered lambs on a set of linen napkins. No
one has spoken to me since.
I Live in a Hut
by S. E. Smith
S. E. Smith's I Live in a Hut has a deceptively simple title, considering that the brain in that hut contains galaxies-worth of invention: At night when your soldiers are praying ceaselessly for less rain and more underwear my soldiers make underwear out of rain. These poems seesaw between despair and delight but delight is winning the battle. Smith is a somersaulting tightrope walker of a poet and her poems will make you look at anything and everything with new eyes: For days I tried to rub the new freckle // off my hand until I realized what it was / and began to grant it its sovereignty. --Matthea Harvey
S. E. Smith’s pilgrims, enormous sleeping women, swaggering put-downs and flirtations constitute a welcomed refuge from the lethargy of much contemporary poetry. Her “dialectical shoes slant toward the pithy ocean" somehow combining the off-beat tilt of Emily Dickinson and the ruminating depths of Virginia Woolf. These poems are not simply “turns of phrase,” they are defiant twists--Mobius strips of syntax and declaration. They spirit the ingenuity and urgency of one who dwells in possibility; one who lives in a hut of palatial imagination and dares us to live there too. What a rambunctious, remarkable debut! --Terrance Hayes
What a pleasure in these days of upholstered gloom to find such welcoming poems in which the certainty that life is a serious, messy business doesn't rule out but necessitates play. Fast, nimble, devilish, and not without a few scares, this is the book of a poet who insists on throwing a party in a burning house. Or rather hut. How lucky we're invited. – Dean Young