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Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Bucknell University.

Smith is the author of six poetry collections, including Devotions (University of Chicago Press, 2011), which was the recipient of the 2012 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. His second collection, Silver and Information (University of Georgia Press, 1985), was selected by Hayden Carruth as the winner of the National Poetry Series.

Smith’s honors include the Discovery/The Nation prize and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2010, he received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2014, he was named a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.

Smith has taught at Boston, Harvard, and Tufts universities, as well as at Portland State, Lewis & Clark College, and the University of Alabama. In 2002, he joined the faculty at the University of Syracuse, where he is a professor of English. He lives in Syracuse, New York.


Bibliography

Poetry

Devotions (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
Songs for Two Voices (University of Chicago Press, 2005)
The Other Lover (University of Chicago Press, 1999)
Mercy Seat (University of Chicago Press, 1994)
Silver and Information (University of Georgia Press, 1985)
The Common Wages (Sheep Meadow Press, 1983)

By This Poet

7

Untitled [I closed the book and changed my life]

I closed the book and changed my life and changed my life and changed my life and one more change and I was back here looking up at a blue sky with russets and the World was hypnotic but it wasn't great. I wanted more range, maybe, more bliss, I didn't know about bliss. Is bliss just a rant about the size of the bowl? The trance was the true thing, no, the rant, no, the sky, now, that icy whiteness.

What Are They Doing in the Next Room

Are they unmaking everything?
Are they tuning the world sitar?
Are they taking an ice pick to being?
Are they enduring freedom in Kandahar?

Sounds, at this distance, like field hollers,
sounds like they’ll be needing CPR.
Sounds like the old complaint of love and dollars.
Sounds like when Coltrane met Ravi Shankar

and the raga met the rag and hearing
became different and you needed CPR
after listening and tearing was tearing
and love was a binary star—

distant bodies eclipsing each other
with versions of gravity and light.
Sounds like someone’s trying to smother
the other—a homicide or a wedding night.

The television derives the half-full hours.
Time exists as mostly what’s to come.
Losing also is ours…
I meant that as a question.

Is I the insomniac’s question?
Are you a dendrite or a dream?
Between oblivion and affection,
which one is fear and which protection?

Are they transitive or in?
Are they process or product?
Are they peeling off the skin?
Are they Paris or the abducted?

They’re reading something after Joyce,
post modern stuff that can be read
but not understood except as voices
rising and falling from the dead.

Do they invent me
as I invent their faces?
I see surveillance gray wasted
with bliss at having thieved identities.

In the AM, when turns to usted,
the sun clocks in to overwrite the night
with hues and saturations and the red
hesitates for a second to be incarnate.

Garden

I walked in the romantic garden and I walked
in the garden of ruin. I walked in the green-skinned,
black-skinned garden of Osiris who was ripped to pieces
and reformed and adored. I walked in that wet,
incestuous plot. Am I the only one who reads
for innocence? I walked in the garden of Amadou Diallo
whose shadow was punctured by unnumbered shafts
of light leading from West Africa to America where wallets
are guns. The chirp you heard in the garden as of two black
holes merging is what we called the soul. And when we cup
our hands to drink at his fountain we make the shape
of his skull. Am I the only one who reads for thirst?
I walked in the gardens of Houston where anole lizards
took their colors at the borders between terror and wonder,
dread and leafy glade, between silence and Sinatra.
I walked in Pope’s garden in Twickenham that rhymed
wilderness and picturesque, walled in and out the stunted
self. In the garden of ruin new growth from the palms
I read as artful, neutral. In the romantic garden the fascists
sing I love you, I love you not. Statues in the gardens
are wrapped in Mylar blankets and blue plastic tarps
like refugees. I read them for reflection. I read for nation.
I read for color and form. In the orangery of Guantanamo,
in the grapevine of Babylon, I’m lost. I went there for the buzz,
the fiction of silence and a better self. Dressed sentimentally
in a dynamite suit in the garden of dates and pomegranates,
I read for patterns of the blast.