Hummer, Terry. "Dave Smith's Homage to Edgar Allen Poe: 'Pushed' Time and the obsession of Memory." In The Giver of Morning: On the Poetry of Dave Smith, edited by Bruce Weigl. Birmingham, Ala.: Thunder City Press, 1982, pp. 75-87. Weigl, Bruce. "The Deep Well of Celebration: Dave Smith's Goshawk, Antelope." Poet Lore 75.1 (1980): 45-50.
Robert Temple Cone
SMITH, WILLIAM JAY (1918- ) William
Jay Smith's poetry has helped to reinvigorate the language of the ordinary; it reestablishes plain speaking and nonsense as varieties of poetic dialect that continue to influence generations of poets to this day. In his light verse Smith translates the complex into simplistic verbal pictures, frequently reproducing the verbal as visual
462 "SNAPSHOTS OF A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW"
and forming his poems into rough images of his subject, such as "The Typewriter Bird" (1954). In the tradition of John ciardi, Smith's verse crosses genres into the wide realm of children's poetry, which exemplifies the ethos of light verse; for Smith, "light verse happily accepts the form that language both permits it and imposes upon it. . . . It lives on change; it thrives on variety. Rhyme is its regimen" (Smith ix). However, a large portion of Smith's poetry has focused on weightier subjects, and, like Ciardi's, his poetry can become more personal, his subjects and diction complemented by tremendous work in both translation and prose.
Smith was born in Winnfield, Louisiana, and raised, as his memoir Army Brat (1980) discusses, in Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis. He was a Rhodes scholar and began writing poetry in the late 1930s. Smith was poet-in-residence at Williams College for an eight-year span starting in 1959 and spent his time in other schools, such as Columbia University and Hollins College. From 1968 until 1970, he served as poet laureate of the United States. He has been a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters since 1975, serving a brief term as vice president for literature. Smith's translations have also won him many awards and citations, most notably from the Hungarian government.
Smith's interest is in marrying the motives of light verse, its emphasis on rhyme and form, with the motives of "serious" poetry; he frequently constructs his verse in the middle of this dialectic. In "American Primitive" (1957), for example, the speaker's father becomes deconstructed and reimagined by the now-adult speaker. The familiar, childlike refrain, "only my Daddy could look like that. / And I love my Daddy like he loves his Dollar," belies the heavier, darker reflections of his father, his gambling and desperation, the blue lips and cold hands, hanging "in the hall by his black cravat." In this poem, as in others, Smith's "light" diction and childish construction mutually reinforce and underscore the space between the child's mind and the adult's memory.
Experimenting wildly within rigid forms, Smith's verse exemplified a new movement, starting early in the 1960s, that rejected free verse and its emphasis on the deregulation of form (see new formalism). Smith forced the idea that play could exist simultaneously with serious literary achievement and, indeed, sometimes must exist for a poem to be successful.
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