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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Number 238: Bruce Smith "After St. Vincent Millay"

After St. Vincent Millay

When I saw you again, distant, sparrow-boned 

under the elegant clothes you wear in your life without me, 

I thought, No, No, let her be the one 

this time to look up at an oblivious me.

Let her find the edge of the cliff with her foot, 

blindfolded. Let her be the one struck by the lightning 

of the other so that the heart is jolted

from the ribs and the rest of the body is nothing 

but ash. It’s a sad, familiar story

I wish you were telling me with this shabby excuse:

I never loved you any more than

I hated myself for loving you.

And about that other guy by your side

you left me for. I hope he dies.

--Bruce Smith

Hap Notes: Bruce Smith (born 1946) has written a half dozen books of poetry with his signature jazzy classicism. His spicy blend of thoughtful metaphor is punctuated by modern musical notes and odd riffs. His work, like today's poem, is often a blend of heart-rending and amusing.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, from the title of the poem, is a poet you are familiar with if you've kept up with us on this blog. Here's a refresher: Millay often wrote of the ecstasies/heartbreak of romance. Millay also said, "It's not true that life is one damn thing after another; it's one damn thing over and over."

In today's poem, note how he manages to go from the lyrical description to the conversational to jarringly painful to philosophical to bitter all in the course of one somewhat tattered sonnet. The last line is an explosion of laughter and grief.

Smith is a native of Philadelphia, PA, got his degree at Bucknell University (Lewisburg, PA) and has taught at a variety of universities including Harvard, Portland State and the University of Alabama. He is currently teaching at Syracuse University. He has won numerous fellowships and awards including an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Here's a good Smith quote: "I like the apprenticeship that's implied in jazz. Before you can blow you had better acquire the skills beforehand, woodshed, as they say, which for poets is reading and practicing and failing. Jazz in my mind is also an antidote and adversarial stance to pop music, which, as Oppen said, can only say what the audience already believes."

You can read the whole interview here (and it's well worth the reading):

You can find more Smith here:

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