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.
Spring Class Offerings at the Loft Literary Center:
Secrets and Mysteries of Sound (6 weeks)
Tuesdays, 5 - 7 p.m., March 14 - April 18
This class is for poets who want to learn more about using sound in their poems. Asking new questions about old matters we may have taken for granted, we'll hope to expand our knowledge of the power of sound. Some neglected aspects of sound in poetry we'll explore include: the distinctive role of vowels and consonants in setting mood and pace; Ezra Pound's three "powers" of poetry; cross-cultural systems relating vowel sounds to specific emotions; overlooked possibilities for rhyme; the importance of pauses, and silence; and how to effectively perform our poems out loud. We'll note some ways great poets such as Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins have employed sound to modulate and enhance emotional tone and meaning in their poems. We'll also touch on changes of the poet's physical voice over time, with the help of recorded poems. Through writing exercises, this workshop will encourage participants to approach sound in empowering new ways and more fully explore the oral and aural delights of poetry. Small copy fee paid to teaching artist.
For more information or to register: 612/215-2575 or https://www.loft.org/shop/product_detail/2/classes/737/poetry_secrets_and_mysteries_of_sound/
Saturday, April 22, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Poets who love to celebrate the inexhaustible splendors of nature may feel conflicted in our time by the urgency of defending the environment against climate change, fracking, and other threats to this planet on which all our lives depend. This workshop proposes a balance between appreciation and activism, praising while at the same time standing up for the natural world. We'll look back to some of the original Western "Green" poets like John Clare and William Wordsworth, while observing how current nature-loving poets like Mary Oliver, Brenda Hillman and Wendell Berry translate their concern for the environment into poems inspiring the reader to positive action on behalf of the earth. Directly taking on daunting subjects such as declining bee populations and the melting of the polar ice caps, we'll emphasize hope as a weapon against apathy and assume responsibility as writers for encouraging advocacy for the environment. In writing exercises we'll explore ways that poems can transcend ordinary reporting and energize readers through infusions of imagination and heart. We'll look for those individual "doorways" into large events that give us access to them emotionally and in ways that can move others. Small copy fee.
For more information or to register: 612/215-2575 or
New: See my tribute to a brave Syrian man, recently killed in the recent bombings, (along with some wonderfully touching photos) "The Clown of Aleppo," published in December 2016 on the UK site International Times. http://internationaltimes.it/the-clown-of-aleppo/
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
And watch for Windy Day at Kabekona: New and Selected Prose Poems, forthcoming from New Rivers Press, 2018.