Dust Bunny City, prose poems by Bud Smith, reviewed by Michael Gillan Maxwell

Dust Bunny City, Bud Smith’s latest collection of prose poems, is a wonderful collaboration with his wife, Rae Buleri, who illustrated the book. Organized in two sections, Tic Tac Toe and Orange Peel, the pieces unfold in a deliberate story arc sequenced like songs on a vinyl album. An album you’d flip over and listen to again. Which is exactly what I did.

Bud Smith’s prose flows smoothly and reads easily. It has the power to disrupt and disturb, to take reality and flip it squarely on its head. Each piece reads like a slice of life, rumination on a moment, vignette, and a peek into a private world filled with a special kind of magic that leaves you wanting more.

The writing is offbeat, and whimsical, but with a hard edge that comes from living in the belly of the beast that is New York City, in all it’s gorgeously awful and naked glory.

A view through the eyes of a keen observer of human nature; Dust Bunny City sketches the weird, ironic, bizarre, absurd, and the humorous. A chronicle of beauty and some kind of truth, it’s a mischievous and tender contemplation of the mundane and ordinary juxtaposed with the extraordinary and transcendent.  A sense of wonder underscores the strange minutia of moment to moment existence. It’s a portrait of the “whole catastrophe” and how life goes on in spite of it all.

Tic Tac Toe is a delightfully off-kilter “day in the life” story. The pieces depict a freewheeling, giddy day-drinking ramble through Manhattan. Reading this section is an amusingly disorienting experience, a story told from the perspective of someone growing progressively more inebriated. Tic Tac Toe is a party, with characters who inhabit the page like performers, jugglers, clowns and drunken carnival barkers:

stars out, no one in the city
can stand up straight anymore
at the newsstand
a small crowd of people
stand around listening
to one man scream …


(from “103rd Street”)

All your joy, or all your sorrow.

Just gems bursting through the ceiling.

Gems crashing through the floor.

(from “Corner Seats”)

Section two, Orange Peel, is a series of poems about absence, longing, loneliness, work, waiting, anticipation and the return of his beloved wife from an extended business trip to India and China:

I’ve circled your return date
on the calendar, raspberry red marker
so I can see
when you are coming back
I’ve got the chair facing perfect
at the deadbolted door
and the date, larger than life
it’s not soon enough
and it’s not true love
unless you’re
foaming at the mouth.

(from “Rose Petals and Ripe Berries”)

Rae Buleri’s drawings are a masterful counterpoint to Bud Smith’s prose. Her line drawings are capricious and loose, with a spirit of spontaneity that’s fresh and not overwrought. Her understated gesture drawings and blind contour drawings may actually belie her skills as a trained and practiced artist. If you’ve ever studied drawing, then you’ve most likely done gesture drawings and blind contour line drawings. While they may be quick, off-the-cuff, linear impressions, a good one captures and depicts the essence of the subject. Buleri may make it look easy, but it takes a great deal of repetition, practice and skill to pull it off with the aplomb that she does with her body of work in this book.

Buleri’s drawings remind me of the iconic illustrations by Ralph Steadman, the esteemed British caricaturist, whose energetic line drawings so wonderfully captured the frenetic energy in Hunter S. Thompson’s classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. However, the spirit of their work is quite different. Steadman is a trenchant satirist whose visual art skewers political figures and societal norms. Buleri’s drawings are much lighter in emotional tone, and infused with a sprightly innocence. They serve as a lighthearted complement to Smith’s unrestrained verbal musings that read in the same loose kind of way.

*Ed.’s Note: click image to view larger size.

Smith uses language to draw his pictures. Simple and direct, his writing is minimalist in nature and demonstrates that less is more. His prose feels spontaneous and effortless, powered by a subtle Zen simplicity. Both the writing and the visual art are vibrant and spirited, but maintain a calm, centered grace and dignity. Dust Bunny City reads as a love letter and homage, a bemused observation of the good, the bad and the ugly; observations of the ridiculous and the sublime, a prayer and a songbook.

The book is a high spirited, rambunctious romp. Bud Smith’s ability to turn life’s ironies into art ranks right up there with some of my other all time favorite authors, including Richard Brautigan, Poe Ballantine, Michael Perry, and Jenny Lawson.  If you’ve had the good fortune to read his earlier poetry collection, Everything Neon, then this new work is like seeing an old friend after a long absence. Dust Bunny City is the logical extension of Everything Neon, but with gravitas and wisdom that comes from a few more years of living. It also has the added firepower of Rae Buleri’s whimsical illustrations and clearly differs stylistically in that many of the pieces read like flash fiction. If you have not read either, then I urge you to read both. You won’t be sorry.

Dust Bunny City, by Bud Smith (drawings by Rae Buleri). New Orleans, Louisiana: Disorder Press, February 2017. 97 pages. $15.00, paper.

Michael Gillan Maxwell is a garden gnome and visual artist who writes poetry, recipes, lists, reviews, and irate letters to his legislators. More information: michaelgillanmaxwell.com.

Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.