Before and After: Poems

Overview

As both poet and novelist, Charlie Smith has been hailed as "prodigiously talented" by the New York Times, and Madison Smartt Bell describes him as "a spectacular stylist" and "a visionary."Before and After, his fourth volume, is his most powerful collection to date—with poems so short and direct they hit home like a knife to the heart.
In Before and After, Smith effectively captures the intimate life of one family—in all its courage, deceit, ...

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Overview

As both poet and novelist, Charlie Smith has been hailed as "prodigiously talented" by the New York Times, and Madison Smartt Bell describes him as "a spectacular stylist" and "a visionary."Before and After, his fourth volume, is his most powerful collection to date—with poems so short and direct they hit home like a knife to the heart.
In Before and After, Smith effectively captures the intimate life of one family—in all its courage, deceit, misery, madness, love, revelation, and rage—and transforms it to record the life of the American family.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
“Each of these short and stunning poems secures Smith's place as one of the most original and captivating voices on the current scene.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With the unadorned acuity that is his signature, novelist and poet Smith (The Palms; The Lives of the Dead) describes the ruins of family life in contemporary America. The voice is that of a son, moderate in all things (including success) and nearing middle age. Beginning in the family cemetery, where a suicidal cousin ``mans the frontier of our plot,'' the tour winds across recognizable terrain: the family house and business, breakdowns and heart attacks, divorces and new spouses. Family members become figures in a larger drama in Smith's convincing and unforgiving-of himself, of them-voice. The cordial, hardworking father enforces his will until he becomes Lear-like: ``some silly king of the air,/ useless, ordering nothing.'' The protective mother, recalling O'Neill's women characters, is opposed by her disdainful sons: ``We didn't need some shabby partisan/ to save us from our escapades.'' The only long poem, ``At Five in the Afternoon,'' dealing with the mother's insanity, much like Ginsberg's Kaddish, is the weakest in an otherwise glittering, forceful collection. (May)
Library Journal
In retrospect, most families seem normal, simple: "Old age mostly took them out, and if they were bitter,/and if they raged as my grandfather did/against failure, still they had time for hot spring days,/for love, sappy or dignified, for the excellence of action." Smith is a poet and novelist, and at times the line blurs. His fourth collection of poems is a novel in many ways, recounting scenes from the life of a family-one that is not particularly unusual but in fact all too typical. Much of the volume, of course, deals with father and son, and each line on their relationship rings true; these same expectations and disappointments scar the walls in many households. Smith draws pictures that make the ordinary extraordinary, as when an argument about money recalls "love's broken shoe,/the hobble that keeps us from going far." Such fresh and memorable turns of language make these poems a pleasure. The story of family is one of promise, of hope. In search of treasure, though, Smith finds "[o]nly this journey, my rage,/disputation, horror./And this desire, like/a sudden, stupid gaiety, to lead them by the hand." Highly recommended.-Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393315554
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/17/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 62
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Charlie Smith is the author of seven previous poetry collections, seven novels, and a book of novellas. He has won the Aga Khan Prize, the Levinson Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His first book, Red Roads, was chosen for the National Poetry Series and received the Great Lakes New Poets Award. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Harper’s, New Republic, Nation, the New York Times, and elsewhere. Three of his novels have been named New York Times Notable Books. He lives in New York City and Key West, Florida.

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Table of Contents

The Family Plot 1
Money 2
The Sentinel 3
Defiance 4
Wisdom 5
The Voice 6
Bylaws 7
Agitation 8
The Missing Daughter 9
Fixed Position 10
Ruffians 11
The Distance 12
Clairvoyance 13
The Front Man 14
Strangers 15
The Business 16
Ransom 17
I Don't Want a Son 19
Home Lessons 21
The Essential Story 22
Togetherness 23
Conceit 25
Outpatient 26
Now, Since 27
The Small Sound the Night Makes 28
Appetite 29
The Answer 30
At Five in the Afternoon 31
The Queen of Winter 41
Two Men 42
Capitalism 43
The Day After This 45
The Gesture 47
Invention of the Land 48
Sons of Sons 49
My Mother Was Quick 51
Two Poems About the Children 52
There Is No Railroad Named Delight 54
Anticipation 55
Solo 56
The Grave 58
The Miniature City 60
Treasure 61
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