Smith's poems throb with compassion for the dead and the living, for the lonely and the failed, ``the alcoholic, the addict, and the freak / the actor who makes it for one week.'' The translator/critic/poet displays a versatile range, from light verse (``The Typewriter Bird'') to chiseled lyrics to free-verse experiments with long, Whitmanesque lines. His keenly intelligent poetry speaks of inner transformations, of a quest for the self, of the artificial patterns we impose on life's formlessness. Smith, who started as a 1940s war poet (``Because I believe in the community of little children''), seems more comfortable pondering life's vicissitudes, its unexpected moments of grace and illumination. (Nov.)
This is a satisfying retrospective of a major American poet. A former Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Smith has had a lifelong love affair with the lyric. Unabashedly musical, he grounds the reader in memorable detail: a willow in winter is ``a frozen harp,'' a tulip ``a slender goblet wreathed in flame.'' Smith's formal, witty style lends itself to the all-but-forgotten arts of light and occasional verse. But the themes of love and mortality are ever-present and reach fruition in the moving later poems. A love poem, ``Venice in the Fog,'' concludes: ``The room is all pomegranate and gold; the fog clears--parting as if for the marriage of Venice with the sea--/ And all that could not be seen is seen, all that was imagined, is, all that was lost, found.'' Recommended.-- Kathleen Norris, Lemmon P.L., S.D.