poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Bruce Smith was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Bucknell University.

Smith is the author of six poetry collections, including Devotions (University of Chicago Press, 2011), which was the recipient of the 2012 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. His second collection, Silver and Information (University of Georgia Press, 1985), was selected by Hayden Carruth as the winner of the National Poetry Series.

Smith’s honors include the Discovery/The Nation prize and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2010, he received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2014, he was named a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.

Smith has taught at Boston, Harvard, and Tufts universities, as well as at Portland State, Lewis & Clark College, and the University of Alabama. In 2002, he joined the faculty at the University of Syracuse, where he is a professor of English. He lives in Syracuse, New York.


Bibliography

Poetry

Devotions (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
Songs for Two Voices (University of Chicago Press, 2005)
The Other Lover (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
Mercy Seat (University of Chicago Press, 1994)
Silver and Information (University of Georgia Press, 1985)
The Common Wages (Sheep Meadow Press, 1983)

Ferment

I saw the body of the jack fruit fall. I saw the body of the hero
fall, his armor clanging on his body. Then the juice and sutras
of the little spell of emptiness or the greater discourse of seed
and ovary. I saw the place ransacked to find a substitute
for the succulents—the lychee, the peach, the flower
infolded in the fig—that give up their season, their nation,
[mango, American pumpkin] the famous fated beauty/terror
rift before the swoon of the future. I saw that luscious rot.
I saw first thieves then police toss that place. I loved
that part. This is the farewell, the flailing without the salt.
This is the brood in place of a bowl of fruit, the fret
in place of a hero’s rage in his tent before he remembers
to sleep, eat, regret. I saw how the light scratches into all
the surfaces, how the air agitates. Then the virtuoso work
of the one-celled begins to mortify and multiply the world,
as if it were doing nothing, so much done by doing nothing.
I live in a sorrow culture, a pleasure culture, a culture frothy
with grievance, yeasty with nostalgia. I live in a pre-war,
post-war culture where what is written is pulped and vectored
like a virus. Ashen light, clouds of sulfuric acid, signatures
of lightning: this could be the planet Venus where love is
adored and scorned, life is sentimental, life is 400 dollars
or more. It froths. It foams like a god in the ocean.
On this planet I saw flights of sparrows and hooded crows.
There’s gratuitous beauty, unwarranted, immoderate beauty
as an agent to oblivion. This blue, this curvature, this Rome—
a further way to forgo. Because no one else will, reader,
remember the things spirited away. Remember those hustling,
those surrendered, those breathing then not. The spectacle
makes us forget. I forgot the shape and color of the cup
and the tear-gas canister. I forgot about the occupation
and the middle passage when I saw the sea’s glint
and green muscly swells. Beholding is a kind of blindness.
History smells as the body becomes a bubbling godhead.
What separates the curds and whey? What allows me
to enter, through the small door, this faltering conversation?

Copyright © 2017 Bruce Smith. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2017

Copyright © 2017 Bruce Smith. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in Kenyon Review, November/December 2017

Bruce Smith

Smith is the author of six poetry collections, including Devotions (University of Chicago Press, 2011), which was the recipient of the 2012 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.

by this poet

poem

I closed the book and changed my life and changed my life and changed my life and one more change and I was back here looking up at a blue sky with russets and the World was hypnotic but it wasn't great. I wanted more range, maybe, more bliss, I didn't know about bliss. Is bliss just a rant about the size of the

poem
I walked in the romantic garden and I walked
in the garden of ruin. I walked in the green-skinned,
black-skinned garden of Osiris who was ripped to pieces
and reformed and adored. I walked in that wet,
incestuous plot. Am I the only one who reads
for innocence? I walked in the garden of Amadou Diallo
whose shadow
poem

Are they unmaking everything?
Are they tuning the world sitar?
Are they taking an ice pick to being?
Are they enduring freedom in Kandahar?

Sounds, at this distance, like field hollers,
sounds like they’ll be needing CPR.
Sounds like the old complaint of love and dollars.