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August 12, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Neglected Poets 1 – Edward Smith

EDWARD SMITH, 1941-2003

Born in Foochow, China, in 1941, instructed by profound immersion in Asian languages, dropped out of Harvard, hustled out of Vietnam as a Spec Five halfway between the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem and that of Kennedy, large in aspirations, definite in opinions, feminist to the bone, Ed Smith avoided literary chutes and ladders and turned away from poetry itself for decades but returned in time to sing a true tune at the Walla Walla Poetry Party and die alone without health insurance in East St. Louis of an Xmas flu. His supple poems squirm down the page to the rhythms of a whipsaw ear, only to emerge on an echoing summit where everything is true.

Along with his elders Charles Foster and Donald Schenker and his contemporary d.a. levy, Edward Smith is one of the neglected masters of an American poetry strand that illuminates the landscape from underground. Charles Potts has committed a labor of love in bringing his grand work into print in the forthmcoming sekected Smith, Truth Has Fallen In the Street.

Full disclosure: Ed’s only mention of me in this volume is the line [itals his] “where the hell is Simon at?”

I met Ed Smith twice: in 1968, nomadic in the Pacific Northwest with Alta and 4-year-old Lorelei in the International Harvester panel van, part of my grandpa’s inheritance. I went to a class of his at the Free U and when a guy was particularly clueless Ed told him to read some modern poetry. Ed surfaced again in 2003, six months before his death, when he drove to northern Illinois to drain Becky’s brandy, read us an interminable early poem of Charlie’s, and rant against Roethke. TIhe next day Becky shooed us out and Ed and I hiked around a lake while he told me about his days in Vietnam and we went to lunch at Bea’s Wok ‘n Roll, surprising hardboiled Bea with his fluent Vietnamese.

Ed was finding his old poetry groove again before he passed on. Here’s a one of Edward Smith’s last poems, a father-daughter poem I relate to, from Truth Has Fallen in the Street. [caveat: WordPress doesn’t do linebreaks very well…]

Father & Daughter for Lindsay
Divina & Heather Ferreira,

her aunt Shani Benesh

& boxes

of mostly naked Barbies

Jim Buerster’s mouth reflected

in a Matthias Grunewald picture

printed from the Internet in black & white—

Lindsay gripped it in her hand
to lay on Mrs. Kuebel
before the bell s

even years after the ultrasound

showed us a girl growing
in Sindy’s tummy

I’m not a real man

I tell my friends sometimes

just to be funny, I don’t

golf, fish, hunt

I detest action movies

dislike fast cars,
in fact, all cars

adore quiche, salads
yellow cheese, red wine

oboes & romantic comedies

and yet I am a man

in the wash of a daughter’s love

frantically clinging to my arms

when the answers don’t come out right

& she cries out, “skip, skip!”

to get me to move on without an answer

evading the unpleasantness of

not knowing everything at six
& Lindsay, when you come some-

day to lock horns with the truth

remember the closeness of a man

who pulled you up
through fights, colds, changes

of schools, friends, your

body rounding to all

things full & sweet sixteen

for when a boy will zoom

you outa here, maybe
in a white Mustang

as in Suzy Bogguss’ “Cinderella”

your nighttime fears forgotten

in the prospects of another
young man’s toast
and yet
before you finally go

remember the man

who pushed you high

on swings

& whose curved arm

welcoming yr little
female nature to his heart

was all you knew



Leave a Comment
  1. Leah Rose (@aloudallowed) / Sep 26 2013 7:04 am

    Ed is my Dad. This poem is about my little sister. Thank you for writing about him.


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