In the Poet's Spotlight for
November 2007: Ron Smith
Smith is the author of Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery,
runner-up for the National Poetry Series Open Competition and the Samuel
French Morse Prize (Margaret Atwood and Donald Hall, judges) and
published by University Presses of Florida. His Moon Road: Poems
1986-2005 has just been issued by Louisiana State University Press,
and has been praised by Pulitzer-winner Claudia Emerson and
Pulitzer-finalist David Wojahn, as well as the Italian scholar and
translator Massimo Bacigalupo and the world-famous journalist and
novelist Tom Wolfe.
Ron Smith's poems have appeared in many periodicals, including The
Nation, Kenyon Review, New England Review, Virginia Quarterly
Review, and in a number of anthologies. His essays and reviews can
be found in The Georgia Review, San Francisco Review of
Books, Kenyon Review, and his poetry column Red Guitar at
Smith, a native of Savannah, Georgia, moved to Richmond, Virginia, to
play college football. A number of his poems deal with the benefits,
costs, values, and spectacle of sports.
Smith holds degrees in English, philosophy, general humanities, and
creative writing from University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth
University. He's also studied writing at Bennington College in Vermont;
British drama at Worcester College, Oxford University; and Renaissance
and modern culture and literature at the Ezra Pound Center for
Literature in Merano, Italy. His awards and honors include the Theodore
Roethke Poetry Prize, the Guy Owen Poetry Prize, a Bread Loaf
Scholarship in Poetry, and a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts
At St. Christopher's School, established in 1911, Ron Smith has held the
George O. Squires Chair of Distinguished Teaching and is currently
Writer-in-Residence, the first person ever to hold that title. In public
and private schools, he conducts workshops in poetry for teachers and
for students of all ages. At Mary Washington College, VCU, and
University of Richmond, he has taught courses in creative writing, 20th
century American poetry, and the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe.
In 2005, Ron was an inaugural winner of the $10,000 Carole Weinstein
Prize in Poetry. In 2006 he became a Curator for that prize.
Index of Smith's Poems: Scroll down or click on Poem Title
of Ron Smith (below)
© copyright Ron Smith, All rights
Striking Out My Son in the
Caught in the open in broad daylight,
jerky-eyed with doubt,
he swings like someone
who’s never held a bat.
His elbows wrongly angle in,
his wrists are snapless
when the soft, lopsided sphere
drops from the sky.
Anyway, those wobble ankles
and rattly knees cannot
spank those Nike’s off the bases
or make a proper feet-first slide.
His eyes are everywhere
but on the ball. I arc
three adequate pitches
and retire the side.
We joke our stiff adult jokes
to the plate and cock
our clubs at our squawking,
Despite the jolt to dozing muscles,
we find we can still hit
and run. Bellies leaning
toward the outfield,
we circle and circle the bags.
On the mound a grim boy tiptoes
to see his best pitch ride
into the left field pines.
Another banker scores.
My son slinks among a dozen fielders,
trying to hide.
He will have to come
to the plate again
with that gap between his fists
I haven’t made him close.
I climb the red clay,
toe the rubber, and spit.
From a row of hooting women
my wife glares at me
through the shimmer of heat.
She can see the blood in my face
that means the steeper drop,
The slow backspin. These little boys
Will never hit me today.
From Running again in
Hollywood Cemetery (University Presses of Florida, 1988).
Back to Index
My son can look me level in the eyes now,
and does, hard, when I tell him he cannot watch
chainsaw murders at the midnight movie,
that he must bend his mind to Biology,
under this roof, in the clear light of a Tensor lamp.
Outside, his friends throb with horsepower
under the moon.
He stands close, milk sour
on his breath, gauging the heat of my conviction,
eye-whites pink from his new contacts.
He can see me better than before. And I can see
myself in those insolent eyes, mostly head
in the pupil's curve, closed in by the contours
of his unwrinkled flesh.
At the window he waves
a thin arm and his buddies squall away in a glare
of tail lights. I reach out my arm to his shoulder,
but he shrugs free and shows me my father's narrow eyes,
the trembling hand at my throat, the hard wall
at the back of my skull, the raised fist framed
in the bedroom window I had climbed through
at three A.M.
"If you hit me I'll leave forever,"
I said. But everything was fine in a few days, fine.
"I would have come back," I said, "false teeth and all."
Now, twice a year after the long drive, in the yellow light
of the front porch, I breathe in my father's whiskey,
ask for a shot, and see myself distorted in
his thick glasses, the two of us grinning,
as he holds me with both hands at arm's length.
From Running again in Hollywood
Cemetery (University Presses of Florida, 1988).
Back to Index
The track star who hasn't done his homework
wants to argue again. His opinion
is his opinion and mine is only
mine. Yes, but, I say, there's something else, some
thing beyond mine and yours. We must strive for
objectivity, I say. Perfect, like,
objectivity, he says, that's, like, a
chimera. Chimera? You know: ain't real.
Yes, yes, I say, and yet you push for it,
the way you push for the perfect hundred
meters, the way you split the air to get
this thing that doesn't exist. It isn't
winning the great sprinter goes for, is it?
It's faster and faster, better and better,
10 flat, 9.6, 9.2, 9 flat. Would you
stop at 9 flat if you knew you could do
better? Sure, he says, but this is for his
smirking buddies or the girl whose eyes keep
flinching from his tanned calves, his muscled neck.
Of course not, I say, but now I'm talking
to myself. Why bother to run better
when you can never reach perfection? What
is perfection here? A one-second race
is twice as long as a half-second race.
Chop that in half, you've got that half left. All
the eyes are tabulae rasae. A smile's stuck here,
an actual yawn blooms there. You have to
push for zero. And so we push and gasp,
and go cold all over on the hottest
day, tear our lungs to the taste of blood. And
if we get it, the zero, we've lost it.
A race that takes no time is not a race.
It's the womb that wants to take us to death,
I say, as the bell rings and out they go,
looking suspiciously over their shoulders
at me and the weirdly perfect circle
I have chalked, from the doorway precisely
centered, I hope, on my small, graying head.
From Moon Road: Poems 1986-2005 (LSU
Back to Index
In the Old City
"Right, that is the Call to Prayer,"
the Methodist missionary who's down
for the weekend from Nazareth says
in an Appalachian twang.
fills the dusty heat with mufti and myrrh,
saffron tambours, sequined ciphers,
jasper lutes and jasmine monsoons,
whirl of quartertones: I'm trying to learn how to listen.
"Sounds like. You notice shops
on the Via Dolorosa're closed today?"
Yes, the mere hallway I've come to find
crowded clinking with cheap, perfumed exotica—
hushed corridor of closed doors, eyes
eager to appear friendly now gone,
the few drifting past glittering with suspicion, like these notes, these
words my head cannot hold, a jeweled box
sealed by the centuries and snatched back
by the owner who thinks better of selling just now
to the likes of me.
"Yeah, they close down like that when there's trouble.
You won't read about it in the papers,
but a Hamas boy got zapped in Nablus.
No trinkets today, no veronicas.
So they cut off their hooked noses,
pardon my language, to spite their ugly faces.
And they turn up the muezzin's volume
to irritate the soldiers,
but the soldiers is hard to irritate.
Loud, though, ain't it?"
Yes, loud with the wavering of God
and the off-key, cross-key yearning
to fill the flesh completely
with the angry vacuum of deity.
I turn away, and the missionary says, I swear, "Ciao, compadre."
Through Jaffa Gate, past some boys and girls who wear
black machine guns down their backs like ponytails,
Suleiman's bright wall stretches itself in the late sunlight
like, yes, a flaming sword
between all the ancient prayers
and the gleaming condos
patrolling the hillsides of the future.
And down in the Gihon Valley at the traffic roar
a man who might be dead already or sulking
in the back room of his shop is still telling me over and
I am on the wrong side.
From Moon Road: Poems 1986-2005 (LSU
Back to Index
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