A brief relief from hunger is a poetry collection about the yearnings of a young man—cocaine, human connection, fast food—and the ravenous world in which he lives. In Vancouver, the speaker binges Big Macs post-rehab while others consume fentanyl-tainted drugs. Growling bodies are everywhere, including on Facebook where people post cruel comments about drug users in the face of British Columbia’s toxic drug supply crisis. At the heart of the collection are poems that respond to these comments from the perspective of the speaker, now sober but still hungry, whose friends are dying from the contaminated drug supply. The speaker knows at least one reliable source of contentment: Grandma’s kitchen, where, at his lowest points, he finds cabbage rolls, acceptance, and a tenderness he wishes to absorb into his masculinity.
“Smith’s debut is simmering with courage, steeped in ‘the dignity in being, scorched like nicotine.’ His voice is that of a ‘man without an interest in hammers’ still doing the poetic work of breaking open the past to see what the pressures of addiction, survival, and gender expectation have wrought within. These poems are paragons of empathy, diamond-hard. They will be with me for a very long time.” – Curtis LeBlanc, author of Sunsetter
“If you’ve never shot coke in your bedroom while your grandma cooks cabbage rolls in the kitchen, this book is for you. Subjects in these poems are closer than they appear.” – Susan Musgrave, author of Exculpatory Lilies
“Reading A brief relief from hunger is stepping into a wilderness where safety is tenuous, societal neglect is assured, and survival is never guaranteed. The toxic drug supply crisis and its victims intimately populate the landscape—a place otherwise collectively rammed to the margins in both cities and in hearts. Spenser Smith knows these woods well—he identifies the barred owls flying overhead, the scrawled epitaphs to lost friends on trees. He answers the echoing cries of cruel Facebook comments mocking overdose survivors with a thoughtful, defiant compassion. He’s adept with twists and turns: a poetic research paper on construction workers, Yelp reviews of treatment centres, and surprising letters to parents and friends. Technically engaging and bursting with innovation, this is a book that both commiserates and shakes awake. Smith knows the way back to Grandma’s house and her cabbage rolls, but A brief relief from hunger encourages us towards the kind of future that will feed us all.” – Délani Valin, author of Shapeshifters
“Spenser Smith’s A brief belief from hunger looks with clear-eyed tenderness at addiction alongside other forms of pain and hunger. This urgent debut collection challenges the dehumanizing rhetoric of news and social media comment sections with their talk of ‘bad choices’ and ‘culling.’ Intimate epistolary poems ask if a friend lost to overdose might have experienced the bliss of a gorging owl or liken a recorded voice to naloxone’s capacity to revive. In deft destabilizing lines, contexts blur, and accepted truisms are set askew: a bobcat may be a digging machine or a cat with ‘Golden eyes, ears tipped with black trophies,’ a needle may carry fentanyl or the scent of Douglas fir. Ultimately, these powerful poems invite us to question which behaviours and appetites we accept as natural and worthy of care. ‘It will take a new vocabulary to love junkies,’ Smith writes, ‘One without the word “junkie.””
– Bronwen Tate, author of The Silk the Moths Ignore