Friday, May 6, 2016

Robert Lavett Smith- Three Poems

Raised in New Jersey, Robert Lavett Smith has lived since 1987 in San Francisco, where for the past seventeen years he has worked as a Special Education Paraprofessional. He has studied with Charles Simic and the late Galway Kinnell. He is the author of several chapbooks and three full-length poetry collections, the most recent of which is The Widower Considers Candles (Full Court Press, 2014). He has recently been working on an new collection of sonnets—his second foray into the form—which is entitled Sturgeon Moon, and which will hopefully be published by Full Court Press sometime this year. In addition, his debut collection, Everything Moves with a Disfigured Grace, which had long been out of print, has finally been republished, and is once again available on


          Honoring Stuart Friebert.

Eighty-five now, he smiles almost benignly
from the back of his most recent collection:
white hair thinned at last to recollected light,
features translucent but still recognizable,
slightly flattened nose I always suspected
must once long ago have been broken.

Sagacity struggles with a trace of smugness
in his expression, betraying firm certainties
concerning the state of contemporary poetics.
It’s all there, he seems to be saying, a favorite
expression in freshman workshops at Oberlin,
those days, incredibly, nearly forty years ago.

And so it is. I find in these late poems clarity
sometimes lacking in the books of the nineties:
once again he confidently reels the reader in
like an expert fly fisherman casting his lines,
well-honed words full of buoyancy and glitter,
images bobbing like brightly colored lures
through the murk of our often negligent tongue.


Sometimes in nightmares my cowardice
confronts me, even after forty years:
The Cat in the Cream Coffee House,
basement of Wilder Student Union,
my first weeks at Oberlin, fall, seventy-six—
before every Tuesday night open reading,
battered speakers invariably diffusing
side two of Art Garfunkel’s transcendent
Angel Clare through moist candlelight—
“Woyaya,” “Mary Was an Only Child”—
Art’s high, clear tenor as gently assertive
as tea summer-steeped and steaming—
and the plywood platform with a single,
hesitant spotlight trained expectantly
on my forever-unconquered personal
Everest, the waiting microphone.


Why my late father—himself no sports fan—
Latched on to that athletic turn of phrase
Is something that continues to amaze
Me; Dad was sometimes a peculiar man.
Explain his fascination, if you can,
With an expression scorned in bygone days
As being among the cheapest of clich├ęs
Decades before it reached ESPN.
Dad hardly ever cottoned to surprise,
Hoping to cultivate a suave impression;
Life’s harshness remained hidden from his eyes.
He never quite outgrew the Great Depression
And, when the unexpected did arise,
Possessed no expletives he could rely on.

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