Aaron Smith’s fifth collection is a beautiful slow dance between humor and despair that the whole school gathers around to watch. Smith excavates tenderness as familial memories are revisited, revised, and rendered new. Stop Lying centers the illness and death of the poet’s mother and manages to perfect that odd and ancient kinship between grief, desire, humor, and loss. The voice in these poems pulls you in close by the collar and refuses to let you go.
Stop Lying is Aaron Smith’s most personal and vulnerable work yet. Revolving around the death of the poet’s mother and how Smith, a gay man, faces his upbringing where his sexuality was viewed as sinful and unnatural, these poems plumb the complexities of what families say and choose not to say. How does one grieve when a relationship will forever remain unresolved? What does it mean to both regret and not regret one’s decisions? What if survival doesn’t look like what we’re told it should? This is the story of a poet pushing through present-day grief and the shame of the past to find the buried truths, the ones that are hardest to tell.
Sometimes the hardest part
is wondering if my mother died
believing I would go
At the center of these poems is the death of the poet’s mother as he confronts his fundamentalist Christian childhood. With unflinching honesty, Aaron Smith flips the narrative of queer acceptance, implicating himself in his family’s contract of lies in which his identity as a gay man was barely discussed and mostly lied about. What is survival left unsaid? Writing at the blistering edge, Smith asks all of us, by asking himself, to stop lying.
Smith poems expound a complicated and distinctly queer relationship to beauty.
Aaron Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Primer, Appetite, and Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Ploughshares and Best American Poetry. A three-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, he is the recipient of fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Mass Cultural Council. He is associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.