Author: Austin Smith

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN-13: 978-0-691-15919-5

As we all know, the best of poetry transcends the immediate to become universal in its scope, not only of its imagery, but also of its essential poetic spirit. Such universality can be found in Austin Smith’s debut collection of poems, entitled Almanac: Poems. Though grounded in the earthy, rugged landscape of the rural Midwest, in keeping with the poetic instincts of his own father, Smith reaches out to the communal human spirit that has so much to do with the mutual sharing of experiences that are united across both time and space.

Smith’s narrative poetry has a power and a cogency that not only leads the reader along the path of everyday life on a northwestern Illinois dairy farm, but which also empowers, while, at times, fringing on the nostalgic. The poignancy of personal revelation and recall shared with others comes across strongly, for instance, in “The Key in the Stone”, with Grandma Mary “staring out the window with such immense / longing at the snow falling into the lake”.

The virility of the farming landscape can be seen in such poems as “The Silo,” with the immediacy of childhood fears and traumas centring on “a great hook” from which slaughtered game was hung. The ghastliness, and yet, obversely, the sanctity, of it all is rivetingly conveyed in the final lines of the poem: “I found tracks / where deer had stepped gingerly / around this blighted ring like children / who knew not to walk on graves.” That Smith’s background was not pure farmboy is evocatively conveyed through his comparison of the ritualistic hanging of the lifeless and despoiled carcass to Mark Antony’s hoisting aloft of the “blood-stained wax effigy” of the once mighty Caesar “so the crowd could see / his twenty-three wounds and believe him / dead”.

Smith’s close familiarity with the everyday tragedies of our human existence is recorded in diction that is readily accessible to the average reader, but which has a depth that is capable of resounding through the hearts and souls of his audience, facilitating their response, even if they come from an essentially non-poetic background. When river waters flood through people’s homes, leaving devastation in their wake, he personifies such an elemental force, piling images of this intrusive behemoth one upon the other, so that one comes to feel that one’s own self is ravaged by the irresistible power and momentum of the catastrophe: “that it had thumbed through the diaries of their daughters, / that it had drunk all the liquor and replaced it with sand, / that it had put on the women’s clothes like a cross-dresser”.

For any reader who is sensitive to the nuances of the changing rural landscape, Smith’s Almanac: Poems should not only help you relive half-buried memories, but also help to rouse you to greater awareness of your present surroundings. Smith’s work is well worth investing in, so do consider acquiring yourself a copy—he is clearly a modern-day poet who deserves your attention.

Follow Here To Purchase Almanac: Poems (Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets)