All images: Hannah Smith, Big Gulp (2022), thermoformed plastic, animated LED circuit, programmed hologram, papier-mâché, laser-cut chipboard, UV printed plexiglass, fiberoptics, automatic bubble blower
︎ Hannah Smith

A Lyric Criticism

with Hannah Smith’s Big Gulp

Hannah Rego

On the body of the thing, as in life, signs  gather, share phrases that swirl constantly  around us: KISS BAIL BONDS - NOW HIRING - PATRIOT - EXIT EXIT     To beat the trap and fool the man    To think of dying   And poison 		off too suddenly EXIT, with no way off In green neon: MODERN LIVING  like a motel with only vacancies (or none)   When i lie and look sideways at the installation, I think oh, I can't feel today  At the gallery opening there was no space for response, hundreds of people packed in and my mind on hors devours  [but there the glows                 the glows along the wall] 	 I’d always choose a shot at feeling important, a pulled   pork sandwich in my hand any day  		*  I’m struck, we say, but yeah, I am, I’m struck by the endless recombinations of forms and how we can think the same things in new ways or with varied effort illustrate the sameness of our grappling, like swallowing, snakes, industry, the ongoing violence of ongoing history (our present time) Alice Notley: I am a real rat, unclear  to myself, because there’s no earth  and no story. Unless I am a lab rat, experimented upon by people like  men, so that I can do their will.  god, i love art (and the thing about art, like poetry, like light,is that it moves through you, the snake inside you; but meaning, if it ever arrived, escapes when I exit the room).  I took a photo of a tiny tree on the snake. Was it the only tree? It struck me, then. Like real  trees, sometimes they do, when the wind is right. But my favorite  detail rests below it all, where the snake ends or begins,  a semi-opaque box half-obscuring a video display  of a rat who spins, dissolves, spins. Movement  shouldn’t be described. I pretend to do it all the time  *  On the snake, one billboard runs a mouse trap ad from 1877 with a stanza of a poem the moguls wrote; I’ve let the moguls whisper  all through this poem	                      to sell this trap that is                         always set In the Morris water navigation task, a rat is placed  in a small tank of water with a smaller clear platform  for the rat to find and faster the second time, faster the next,  because spatial memory forms despite  a lack of landmarks, or scents, or social learning.   As part of a paid psychology experiment, I got a couple MRIs  and between them viewed hours of video lectures  about how memory works and fails. I liked when rats swam around  and liked when they found safety. I liked the light show of data  in the rat brains, fields of green and red  dots on screens in my own windowless lab room.    	*  today i'm too beat down by what this art captures, I'm all  thoughts & all thoughts shared futurely with you maybe most of all i love the blank black wall 20% of the time, a rat stops swimming and floats on its back until rescued by the researcher. a bright line cast from wherever outside is & my own shadow raised to capture whatever i hope matters  to me, no,     to us 					 					The mouse goes in to get the bait, And shuts the door by his own weight  	*  At the City Museum of St. Louis, I’d been  in there an hour before I understood the whole thing is a work of art, a sculpture   made of many rooms. Everything and everyone can be criticized.  There’s a whole gallery of remade walls mounted with  Wendy Trevino:  At most, I can see a painting being like a    bluff, a view Of the back of your opponent’s cards   when you’re playing For money & you’ve already lost more    than you planned. fragments of the Chicago Stock Exchange, wall text reckoning with the world of salvage   collectors, armchair archaeologists of the now. A community came together to honor industry and stocks, power that I know nothing about or a community came together to reclaim ruin, make art to live with and snake through.  *  Like a poem, anything with light is moving  & shouldn’t be described. I’d rather unname shapes in retrospect: intestines whether you see them or not; a box with a marquee in it where everything gets gone  A queer looking box placed in a house He’s in a cage, somehow or other,*  Without neon how could i sit here grateful  for the possibility of something else blinking on in the future, full scale or in miniature, I mean why do nightstand objects call to me  like mountainscapes, isn’t there something about our point  Alice Notley:  Then who has luck? No one, the new species. How? I can now deny my name. It’s this light within rat of reference shift, how it feels  when our sense of space is thwarted? The hugeness  of a spatial encounter can rewrite our thoughts  about a place, about ourselves. It’s impossible  to not live in this art; it can’t be seen, not really.  It swallows you whole.  *  Wendy Trevino:  But your relationship with it isn’t the most important Or interesting one. Your love won’t change what a painting  Is, which is someone’s time spend working for someone else.  There is natural history; there are bees to read about, the kind that live in rotting wood & depend on one survivor to ensure the species continues. On the roof, a pigeon built a nest of nails and scrap paper. At the exit, everyone threw their wrist bands in a fire truck cabin. If nothing nests there yet, it will.  *  In the City Museum, in the Beatnik Cafe: Jazz, colors, a TV with old ads, literal signs, neon, lights blinking,  a reclaimed circus hole through which, in  the past, you could climb to be with circus rats.   *					We know what all this is, snakeskin and plastic, the real live rat with the platform yanked out, swimming swimming  the marquee rat dissolving  from the light that it is,  the rat always the thing we trap,  The we as trap or the  we as rat Little lives implicit on the back of the monster, or landmass,   layers of texture too,  light and colorless plaster,  toys and a pixelated rat in the mouth or the belly of the big thing. For children, is it not just their heightened imaginations but also their proximity  in size to their toys that reels them  into story, to be part of simulation freely, uninterrupted  until you yell their names? That’s part of the art   of the City Museum—beneath you,  young people slip through caves and reclaimed metal tubes. We all glimpsed a fish in a tank or nothing at all in the dark of a covered slide—  architectural collage, a playground into a playground  	*  There’s such obvious potential                                        	                    all around us: future nests of billboard space, of empty schools with  smashed-out windows, stones to pick up, pass around, stack atop each other,            	        lie down and dream in.




Hannah Rego (they/them) has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and is a founding editor of ctrl+v, a journal of collage and visual poetry. Their work appears in Bettering American Poetry, Best Small Fictions, and elsewhere.

RUCKUS, 2018-2023
Louisville, KY