Review from Rivista Di Studi Canadesi

Tre Poesie: a cura di Laura Ferri published in Rivista  di Studi Canadesi, Schena Editore N. 16, 2003


It’s always thrilling to read new work by an admired poet. Here are some of my thoughts about “At Day’s End,” “In Time,” “Fish”.

“What’s Smith doing now? I wonder. And at the same time, “What do I recognize in the new poems that is the Ron Smith I know from earlier works? Heidegger wrote something which reminds me of Smith’s poetry. “To be a poet in a destitute time means: to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the time of the world’s night utters the holy (Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. New York: Harper, 1971, 94.)

Time is an ongoing concern of Smith’s Seasonal, his “Nicole poems,” are all about time’s passing, so evident in children’s changing from day to day. In “Arabesque,” — that lovely title word which joins a simple ballet pose (“simple” to say!) with a sense of decorative, exotic intricacy — both emblematic of a pause in time’s flow — the poet observes that “We record the years without understanding.” One aspect of Smith’s poetic project is precisely to challenge this mindlessness, to replace it with what Thich Nhat Hahn, the interpreter of “inter-being,” calls mindfulness. So Smith:


In time, we surrender promises
To the moment; breathing the fallow earth,
We remember how we were
Before these words, these quickening days. (“In Time”)

“At Day’s end” is even more aware of the “world’s night”:

Backs best, we crumple
Under the weight of thought and memory,
Before the earth was tilled, trees chopped.
And we led ourselves to slaughter.


This poem conjures a harvest painting, by Chagall perhaps. The reader does wonder if a particular work is “just out of sight here — a Van Gogh? A Millet? The poet verbally insinuates a “portrait” in order to structure the poem. The epigraph from Milosz precisely outlines the structure of “At Day’s End” by suggesting a parallel universe of “unremembered things,” the function of Smith’s “portrait.” To which painting is the poet alluding?

Even though “Fish” is an evening poem, it is a much less dark poem; it also illustrates what I find most predominantly to be new in these three poems. “New” may not be the right word, though. “Further developed” is better. The economy of words to elaborate a multi-dimensional imaginary world is astonishing in “Fish.” (I can’t help counting them: 48!) In these few brief lines the poem captivates the reader by interweaving the images of a sleeper and fish jumping at sunset into the sleeper’s imagined dreams. Again, in “Fish,” as in all his work, Smith’s concern with time and escaping from it is his way “to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods.” The development in Smith’s art which “Fish” discloses is a new level of virtuosity in verbal concision and its concomitant intensity of connecting with the reader.

Tom Gerry


In Time

Beyond the kitchen window, in the meagre light
Of a winter’s day, earth and bud begin to swell.
Inside, things left unsaid
Intrude. Once again we are burdened by
This fickle silence, the distractions of percolating
Coffee, the day’s chores, split wood.
So easy to be misunderstood, to hold
Longing in mind, to feel unattended,
Frozen, against his emptiness. And so easy
To lose yourself in another’s expectations —
Or in the weather. How different
Our moods are, she says,
When the rains come — and I’m caught
By the way stillness curves
Through the glistening garden
Cutting light into shadow
Like a crow’s wing.

In time, perhaps, we learn to trust
In love, the inevitable seasons, trilliums,
The pungent smell of a morning fire.
In time, we surrender promises
To the moment; breathing the fallow earth,
We remember how we were
Before these words, these quickening days.


At Day’s End


“Where is the truth of unremembered things.”
—   Czeslaw Milosz

When we grab the mouth, we hold
the four corners of laughter. Men

wearing woolen robes celebrate
mayhem and madness. Animals do not

understand. There is nothing ancient
in this portrait of dumb beasts, fields

or sky. At day’s end, don’t be fooled
by the ease with which we embrace night

for our own satisfaction, our particular
pleasure. Or love, when we are free to spend it.

So much attributed to space when there is
none to give. Hay fields waist high

march towards the sun. Animals bray at the moon,
offer no comfort to the moth or night birds

climbing the sky. Back bent, we crumple
under the weight of thought and memory,

before the earth was tilled, trees chopped.
And we led ourselves to slaughter.



At dusk —
you submerged in sleep —

they swim
so close to shore

I see them

out of one element

into another —
sunset speckled —

an astonishing
act of faith

of last light

momentarily in air

an ecstasy

I can only imagine
you dreaming.


(These three poems were translated by Laura Ferri and published in a bilingual format in the Italian journal Rivista Di Studi Canadesi in 2003. Both Ferri, in Italian, and Gerry provided brief comments on the poems.)

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