A “smidgin” is an imprecise, tiny amount of something, a modest dollop. As a poem title, the jocular word is self-effacing but also coyly assertive, like a humble-brag.
I got dirt under my nails the other day with Rae Armantrout’s poem “Smidgins” (https://ethicaldative.com/2022/04/12/how-poetry-feels-about-itself/). Did I soil a blithe lyric with the pale cast of thought? I mustn’t trouble the poem any further here except to mention a quibble with the latter part of this stanza:
Poetry hates itself / the way a child / pretends to fall / and looks around / to see who notices. // As much as any / single smidgin / wants to disappear. * …
The phrase As much as any single smidgin wants to disappear feels too arch by half, and leaves me stranded. I replace it mentally with “As much as any parabola wants to be analgesic” and am no less illumined.
Leaving a written record of joy and vexation over poems is a ritual roughly akin to that of the math student who shows his work. The testament of blunders, false starts and illusory breakthroughs is useful, if at all, for what it says about the problem and the student; the answer is the least of it.
(Source: Rae Armantrout, “Smidgins,” newyorker.com, 3-28-22.)
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