From Publishers Weekly
After 17 collections--including two previous new and selecteds--one would expect the indefatigable Smith to settle down some, but not so. Proceeding chronologically (which here means back-to-front), one finds that a formal elegance and a maritime musical panache akin to early Lowell mark Smith's early work most clearly, whether meditating on oyster boats where "the currents carried/ cloisters of murk,/ miracles that bloom/ luminous and unseen, sweet things to be/ brought up, bejeweled, culled from husks" or simply capturing "the big-jawed Bluefish, ravenous, sleek muscle slamming,/ convoys rank after rank, wheeling through flume and flute of blood." Poems rooted to the South show a delighted attention to its quirks and an interest in familial progressions. When Smith, however, abandons this often patriarchal legacy and opts for a more confessional tone, his music begins to unravel, giving way to prosaic speech ("It/ might help to say how in my head/ she slumps helplessly, my arms/ don't know what to do with her") and bathetic doggerel ("and your voice goes/ spattering against my fingers like ache's shredding/ that couldn't be held back any longer"). Fortunately, "The Holy Mother of Connecticut Avenue" kicks off the book with a mortal vengeance--"death's hot shit piled up around us, a stinking smoke/ coiled like BO out of skinless wires, on floorboards licked,/ as if all we wanted was flame-touched at last"--and the wick catches anew. While not the major achievement a third try at a new and selected might suggest, there is enough energy here to merit a look. (Apr.)
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About the Author
Dave Smith, Elliot Coleman Professor of Poetry and chairman of the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University, is the author of twenty books of poetry, fiction, criticism, and memoir. Recipient of the Dictionary of Literary Biography YearbookAward for Most Distinguished Volume of Poetry for The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970--2000, he has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Lyndhurst Foundation. Smith lives with his wife in Baltimore.