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.
Winter Class Offerings at the Loft Literary Center:
The Imaginative Play of Form (12 weeks)
Thursdays, 6 - 8 p.m., January 26 - April 13
This class emphasizes the "serious play" of working with form, not at the expense of imagination and feeling, but to better serve their range and subtlety. New forms can unlock new content. While keeping considerations of content in mind, we'll approach poetry mainly through formal strategies, to tap new expressive capacities and bring neglected aspects of experience and personality into our work. We'll spend the first few sessions revisiting the formal foundations of poetry, and then adventure into the wide world of forms, exploring mainly nontraditional, sometimes non-Western forms including the haiku and haibun, the Neruda-style "elemental" ode, the prose poem, the ghazal, and the series poem. We'll also note formal innovations in American poetry and consider three important elements in inventing forms of our own. Master poets discussed include Donald Hall, Pablo Neruda, Robert Creeley, Mary Oliver, Lorine Niedecker, and many others. Weekly writing assignments span a range of forms and styles. The instructor offers to critique up to six poems per participant between class meetings. Small copy fee.
For more information or to register: 612/215-2575 or https://www.loft.org/shop/product_detail/2/classes/614/the_imaginative_play_of_form/
Saturday, February 18, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
For many, winter is the best season for writing. At this time of year the quiet of the external landscape pulls us toward an inwardness conducive to dreaming and re-visioning our lives. Winter's inward mood is perfectly suited to the reading and writing of poetry. This day-long class, part poetry workshop and part reflective retreat, focuses equally on inner and outer aspects of winter. In the morning session, we'll enjoy a spacious survey of poets who know and have written unforgettably of the northern winter, such as Freya Manfred, Robert Bly, Connie Wanek, and Tom Hennen. Writing exercises for this half of the workshop will stress observation of winter weather and various "outside" phenomena. Our afternoon session will go "inside," touching upon that fertile dream-work that nourishes us during the dark, cold time of year. We'll examine the role of memory in our writing about the short days and long nights of winter. Borrowing the writer Frederick Manfred's respectful adaptation of a Plains Indian practice, we will also write "winter count" poems about the past year's important events. Participants can come away from this lively, yet meditative day with a refreshed readiness to write the poems of the coming year.
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
You can order The Glory and other books by Thomas R. Smith from Red Dragonfly Press at this address: www.reddragonflypress.org/smith.html