Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Muse: Virginia's New Poet Laureate

. . . Virginia is rich in poets, poets who deserve much
more recognition and more readers than they currently have.*
~ Ron Smith

The seventeenth Poet Laureate of Virginia is Ron Smith, who succeeds Sofia M. Starnes. Appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe, Smith will serve two years (through June 30, 2016) in the honorary post. His term began officially July 1.

In an interview with Richmond periodical Style Weekly, Smith identifies his duties as "encouraging and representing poetry." While expressing relief that a he "won't be called upon to write "The Charge of the Light Brigade", Smith nevertheless adds, "I wish my duties required me to write the 21st century equivalent of Tennyson's "Ulysses" or "The Lady of Shalott"." 

Information about the legislatively created position is included in my Monday Muse profile of Claudia Emerson (March 1, 2010). Kelly Cherry succeeded her. For my profile of Sofia M. Starnes, see the Monday Muse post of October 1, 2012. 

* * * * *
. . . I think . . . what poetry does relentlessly,
line after line, good poetry and great poetry—
it breaks down the barrier between the inner and the outer.
~ from 2003 Blackbird Interview

A Virginia resident since 1967, Ron Smith, who also is an essayist and critic, has published three poetry collections: Its Ghostly Workshop (Louisiana State University Press, 2013), Moon Road: Poems 1986-2005 (LSU Press, 2007), and Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery (University Presses of Florida, 1988). The latter, available through resellers, was runner-up for the National Poetry Series Open Competition and Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize.

Named in 2011 one of "Best Local Poets", Richmond's Style Weekly describes Smith as "a writer's writer with a keen intelligence and a former college athlete's innate understanding of physicality and the flesh."

Subjects addressed in Smith's poems include marriage and family, teaching, sports, travel and place (in particular, Italy, Greece, Israel), memory, cultural history, separation and alienation, pilgrimage and witness, doubt and wonder. The philosophical and the metaphysical are found alongside deeply honed personal observations and experiences. The ruminative and celebratory mix with the humorous. Literary and historical persons and events figure in Smith's work, especially in his most recent collection Its Ghostly Workshop, where his references — to Odysseus, Edgar Allen Poe, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Edward Teller, T.S. Eliot, Leni Riefenstahl, New York Yankees, and others — reflect Smith's erudition without pretentiousness. (Some of his work is parody.)

Clarity is a hallmark of Smith's poetry but note in the example following how Smith also gets us thinking on more than one level, leaves us with more than one meaning in a single line ("This is where we first learned to let go. // And our son is taking us again...."; it's not just about the son learning to drive).

We sit in back
where we can't be caught
in the nervous eye corner.
Four hands in her lap,
one knotting ball. My fingers 
have been numb for miles.

This is where we first learned to let go.

And our son is taking us again
along the spine of the Blue Ridge.
The Olds drifts to the solid line
white as a cloud, [. . . ]
~ from "Learner's Permit on Skyline Drive" in Moon Road

Poems by Smith have appeared nationally and internationally in such periodicals as AscentBlackbird, Georgia ReviewKansas Quarterly, The Kenyon Review, The Nation, New England Review, Plume, Poetry DailyPuerto del Sol, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Tampa Review, Verse, and Virginia Quarterly Review

Anthologies in which Smith's work appears include The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013 (MadHat Press), Kentucky: Poets of Place (2012), Poets for Pound at Sala Capizucchi (University of New Orleans Press, 2011), Helen Vendler's Poems, Poets & Poetry: An Introduction & Anthology (3rd Ed., Bedford Books, 2010), Don't Leave Hungry: Fifty Years of Southern Poetry Review (University of Arkansas Press, 2009), Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets of Virginia (University of Virginia Press, 2003), and Georgia Voices (University of Georgia Press, 2000).

Among various awards Smith has received are the Theodore Roethke Prize from Poetry Northwest (1989), the Carole Weinstein Poetry Prize (2005), and the Guy Owen Award from Southern Poetry Review.  Smith's poem "The Teachers Pass the Popcorn" (in Moon Road; also anthologized in Helen Vendler's Poems, Poets, Poetry) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2000.

Smith also has been a Bread Loaf Scholar in Poetry, a Modern Poetry Association (now, The Poetry Foundation) Poets-in-Person Scholar, and a Roper Graduate Fellow. In addition, he is the recipient of a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Holder of degrees in English, philosophy, general humanities, and creative writing, Smith is writer-in-residence and George O. Squires Chair of Distinguished Teaching at St. Christopher's School, Richmond, where he has been a faculty member for more than 40 years. He is on boards of advisors for James River Writers and Poetry Society of Virginia.

An offensive guard while attending the University of Richmond on a football scholarship, Smith has been the poetry editor for Aethlon: The Journal of Sports Literature since 2009. (In his interview with Style Weekly about his appointment, Smith talks about the influence of sports on his work, noting, "I've never really separated sports from poetry. . . Sports can teach you precision. And perseverance. And how to turn pain into something useful, maybe even glorious. Most of the poetry I love is intensely physical. It makes you as aware of the body as of the mind.")


Photo Courtesy St. Christopher's School, Richmond, Virginia

All Poetry Quotations © Ron Smith

* Quoted from LSU Media, "LSU Press Author Ron Smith Named Virginia Poet Laureate", Press Release, July 2, 2014

St. Christopher's School, "Ron Smith Appointed Poet Laureate of Virginia", July 7, 2014

Brian McNeill, "Smith, Graduate of VCU Creative Writing MFA Program, Named Poet Laureate of Virginia", Virginia Commonwealth University Public Affairs Office, June 30, 20134

Ron Smith Poetry Online: "Come on In, Come On Along" at Ascent; "Campidoglio", "The Tomb of the Scipios", "Flashes", "Greece", and "Edward Teller's Leg", All at Blackbird; "Via Appia" at Poetry Daily; "Striking Out My Son in the Father-Son Game", "Leaving Forever", "Objectivity", and "In the Old City", All at Poet's Spotlight, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda Website; "κάθαρσης" ("Catharsis") at Plume; "A Wizard in the Forum" and "Piazza G.G. Belli", Both at Connotations Press; "Brampton Road" and "Bronze Boxer", Both in Poetry Society of Virginia Newsletter (pdf, p. 3); "Poe's Last Words" from Its Ghostly Workshop on GoogleBooks; "Early Christianity: A Poem" and "Rome", Both at Plume; "Henry James and the Future of Photography" at VQR Online; "The Caravaggio Room" at Plume; "Brampton Road" at Southern Poetry Review (p. 53)

Brent Baldwin, "The Poet's Poet", Interview, Style Weekly (Richmond), July 8, 2014

Mary Finn, "An Interview with Ron Smith", Blackbird, January 15, 2003 (Parts I and II in Audio; Transcript) (This interview addresses in particular Smith's wide-ranging travels and the role of travel in his poetry and in literature generally.)

Ross Losapio, "Review: Its Ghostly Workshop, by Ron Smith", Blackbird, Vol. 13, No. 1, Spring 2014

Jessica Ronky Haddad, "Creation Story: Ron Smith, Poet", Style Weekly, June 26, 2002

Its Ghostly Workshop on GoogleBooks

Moon Road on GoogleBooks

Poetry Society of Virginia

Bedford Books

MadHat Press

LSU Press Its Ghostly Workshop Page

University of Arkansas Press

University of Georgia Press

University of New Orleans Press (Web Catalogue)

University of Virginia Press

Ron Smith on FaceBook

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