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In the Poet's Spotlight for November 2007:  Ron Smith

Ron 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 Fellowship.

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

Poems of Ron Smith (below)  © copyright Ron Smith, All rights reserved.

Striking Out My Son in the Father-Son Game


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,

crouching sons.


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).

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Leaving Forever


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).

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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 Press, 2007).

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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. 

                                                             The azan

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 over

                  I am on the wrong side.


From Moon Road: Poems 1986-2005 (LSU Press, 2007).


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