Poet, Teacher, Writer, Editor
Welcome to my web site. In various capacities, I'm a poet, teacher, writer, and editor based in western Wisconsin near the Twin Cities. My work is strongly rooted here, so in my poems you'll meet some of the people, animals, birds, flowers, and trees I encounter day to day, not least the wonderfully named kinnickinnic, or red osier dogwood or red willow, so plentiful in these parts. I like the symbolism of kinnickinnic, so ready to root from a cutting that the Indians saw it as an emblem of resurrection.
I've kept this site simple for easy navigation. "About" will fill you in on a little biographical background. "Poems" showcases a few poems with which I've been particularly happy over the years. I'm using the "Blog" section to air occasional essays on literature, culture, and current affairs. "Publications" provides a brief bibliography of my published work. "Contact" tells you how to get in touch with me. (I always welcome comments by readers, not to mention invitations to read or teach.) And this home page does double duty as a calendar for upcoming events. I hope you'll have as enjoyable a time glancing around this site as I've had putting it together.
Fall Class Offerings at the Loft Literary Center:
The Voice of the Heart (12 weeks)
Thursdays, 6 - 8 p.m., September 22 - December 15
If poetry is essentially a communication from the heart of one human being to another, how can we keep the heart in our poems without sentimentality or cliché? This class encourages poets at any level of development to bring more emotional honesty and openness into their poems. Drawing on new and old metaphors of the heart, we'll attempt to balance emotion and thought in our work, locating the most powerful areas of feeling in our lives to create poems of intensity and depth. Along the way we'll explore the poetry of childhood and home place, the elegy and the love poem, dream poems, and poems that embrace the overlapping worlds of nature and human community. We'll also look at the role played by language in expressing the "thought of the heart." Sessions include lectures and group discussion of work by Jane Hirshfield, Pablo Neruda, William Stafford, Marily Nelson, and other master poets. This is a generative rather than an analytical course, with in-class writing exercises to widen our expressive range. The instructor will give written feedback on up to six poems per student. Small copy fee.
For more information or to register: 612/215-2575 or https://www.loft.org/shop/product_detail/2/classes/473/the_voice_of_the_heart/
Saturday, October 15, 1 - 5 p.m.
The very brief poem is ideal for those who want to capture essences, or the immediate flavor of some moment of living or flash of insight. It is the poem of instant immersion in one's subject, with no preamble and no sequel. It can also be the poem of piquant observation of life's little ironies. It also has sometimes been employed as a conveyor of aphorism or wisdom. In this workshop we'll explore all of these aspects of the very brief poem and more, beginning with the masters of Japanese forms such as the haiku and tanka and following their influence into the Western poetry of the past hundred years, especially prominent in the Imagists of the early twentieth century. We'll consider the intricacies of bringing these forms into contemporary American language while looking at a range of international poets who've adapted the very brief poem to their personal styles. This wide-ranging workshop will include great Eastern poets like Issa and Basho as well as Western poets as diverse as Jane Hirshfield and Ezra Pound. Writing exercises will feature forms both Eastern and Western, including renga (linked verse) and the cinquain. Small copy fee.
For more information or to register: 612/215-2575 or https://www.loft.org/shop/product_detail/2/classes/513/unlocking_the_very_brief_poem_east_and_west/
Read what some advance readers of this new collection have written:
Thomas R. Smith's new collection, The Glory, serves many glories--those of the natural world, of the American democratic dream, and of various individuals who do us all credit. Yet, while remaining celebratory, Smith always looks unblinkingly at human history, "the thuggishness of ourselves," reminding us how we are "gravely / and fairly judged" by the wild creatures who encounter us warily. While ranging from the micro -- an "insect hum" -- to the macro -- "the spill of the Milky Way" -- and in between invoking such icons as Woody Guthrie, Rachel Carson, and Nelson Mandela, Smith always exemplifies Simone Weil's claim that paying attention is the highest form of prayer -- his steady and reverent attentiveness to the world in which he finds himself is the armature of this book. And attention includes engagement: the Sixties play a role here as background for poems of contemporary civic activism that confirm the personal as political and vice-versa. When Smith compares the sun's rising to the birth of a child and wonders "what gift" to bring him, the reader knows the gift has already been delivered, Smith's poetry itself. Like the "music-house" for shelter one poem speaks of, Smith offers us for shelter his poetry-house, solidly built, roomy, and full of treasures.
--Philip Dacey, author of Church of the Adagio
This substantial, wide-ranging book is an inspiration and a glory. The boy who carried the news to the sick, the housebound and the lonely was the messenger Mercury, his wings a single-speed Schwinn bike. In his maturity Smith brings that life-saving news to us that can only be found in poetry. The intervening years have done their work well in him: "I am better for living," he writes, having discovered the reverence youth had kept hidden from himself in his heart. Over and over in these poems we discover with Smith one version and then another of that reverence. We are made aware in them, too, of those years of development that were the chrysalis "in which he surrenders / to the mysterious fluidity by which / creatures weary of creeping form their wings." In this collection Smith has fully taken wing.
--Joe Paddock, author of Circle of Stones
These poems are the salt of the earth -- they come from pure, simple roots, natural-born and straight-shooting. Thomas R. Smith is a grown-up, in-your-face, deeply tender poet who is not afraid to sing of his reverence and love for family, friends, and country -- not afraid to express his kinship with animals, insects and plants -- and not afraid to write about political, cultural and environmental figures, naming both heroes and villains, enemies and compatriots. Smith moves from early memories of life in a small Midwestern town through decades of seeking, losing, and finding purpose and meaning in his life. He accepts and also resists defeat, the sad song that underlies many of the dreams he cherished as a younger man. He ultimately succeeds in his efforts to "embrace every sunset given us" as he faces both the tragic truth and glory of existence.
--Freya Manfred, author of Speak, Mother
You can order The Glory and other books by Thomas R. Smith from Red Dragonfly Press at this address: www.reddragonflypress.org/smith.html