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."—Daniel Borzutzky
"What makes this book so affecting are its layers. Fred Schmalz has drawn a world in cross-section and to scale, so that we, as readers, can see (and feel) how experience is created. It isn’t necessary to distinguish between elegy and ode here. Rather, feeling and thought are cast clearly enough to reveal their common bedrock: wonder. This wonder is often ekphrastic. Almost as often it rises out of common events in everyday life, the infra-ordinary. And it persists. Action in the Orchards courses through the natural history of metaphoric language, through the details of human emotion, and through time. The poet’s steady attention to perception and to sound and to rhythm becomes a way of recording the history of mind and body, and then he engraves these 'little stars of the impossible' so that the transient is brought closer to permanence. This book is extraordinary."—G. E. Patterson
"The orchards are plural; the action is thought. Museums are orchards; perception is action. Books are orchards; the action is memory. In the orchards of meeting friends for lunch, or biking in the rain, or moving from the Midwest to Europe and back again, the action is that of the language-body always just a little lost to awareness—even as awareness pierces vividly. 'Terminal' rhymes with 'luminous,' and a slapstick silence plays in the gaps between places, objects, gestures, tonalities: 'the same and not the same // each time permanent strange.'”—Frances Richard
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.—rob mclennan, rob mclennan's blog
Schmalz thus raises vital questions about what it means to encounter an artwork. What are the limits of such an encounter? When does an encounter with an artwork end? This seems like a straightforward question: you stand in front of a painting in a museum, then you move to the next one. Even when working with museum pieces, though, Schmalz stresses the strange duration of his encounters: they tend to persist, to haunt.—Toby Altman, Iowa Review
The strength of Schmalz works lays in his willingness to conceal or reveal the source material. This frees the poems from the sources while not always detaching them from a tether to meaning. He approaches ekphrasis with nimbleness that serves the work and the reader well.—Nicholas Alexander Hayes, Your Impossible Voice