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Words by the Water
     

Words by the Water

by William Jay Smith
 

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William Jay Smith has been one of the most respected figures on the literary scene for more than half a century. Two of his thirteen poetry collections were finalists for the National Book Award, and the present volume is clearly the work of a true American master.

The volume opens with a poetic sequence, "The Atoll," concerning the tiny coral island of Palmyra

Overview

William Jay Smith has been one of the most respected figures on the literary scene for more than half a century. Two of his thirteen poetry collections were finalists for the National Book Award, and the present volume is clearly the work of a true American master.

The volume opens with a poetic sequence, "The Atoll," concerning the tiny coral island of Palmyra during World War II. Finding himself on the narrow rim of an extinct volcano at almost the exact center of the Pacific, water on all sides, breakers pounding the reef, the poet evokes the distinct sensation that he had of being at the heart of Herman Melville’s "oceans vast." In lines resonant and memorable, he recalls the "terrifying beauty" of standing at night on what seemed then the very edge of the earth.

The poet next addresses our current daily terror—war and destruction. In "Invitation to Ground Zero" he presents a moving tribute to a victim of the September 11 disaster, while in "Willow Wood" a soldier, having recently lost both his legs in a roadside blast, utters without a trace of self-pity strong words on future wars. Tragedy marks many of these pages, but Smith does not forget his lifelong commitment to witty and satiric verse. To introduce several hilarious pieces, he reprints the celebrated poem "Dachshunds." Simplicity and musicality have given his wedding songs a wide audience. Several of them are here, including an extraordinary new one, "The Bouquet."

Variety has always characterized Smith's work. Words by the Water is particularly varied and unusually youthful and fresh.

Editorial Reviews

Midwest Book Review
Words by the Water is very much recommended reading for poetry fans.

— James A. Cox

New Criterion
Few poets go on writing well into old age, but the Louisiana-born William Jay Smith is one of them. Still going strong, his poetry, marked by great technical skill, is witty and satiric, poignant and humane... Smith's poetry offers sensuous pleasure and intellectual delight.

— Jeffrey Meyers

Providence Journal
In this utterly delightful book, variety is matched by insight.

— Tom D'Evelyn

Booklist
Smith turns 90 this year, so don't carp about the several previously collected poems in this book. Instead, appreciate the book's exquisite arrangement and the concern of the collection as a whole with linking eras of life and art.

— Ray Olson

Booklist - Ray Olson

Smith turns 90 this year, so don't carp about the several previously collected poems in this book. Instead, appreciate the book's exquisite arrangement and the concern of the collection as a whole with linking eras of life and art.

Providence Journal - Tom D'Evelyn

In this utterly delightful book, variety is matched by insight.

New Criterion - Jeffrey Meyers

Few poets go on writing well into old age, but the Louisiana-born William Jay Smith is one of them. Still going strong, his poetry, marked by great technical skill, is witty and satiric, poignant and humane... Smith's poetry offers sensuous pleasure and intellectual delight.

Midwest Book Review - James A. Cox

Words by the Water is very much recommended reading for poetry fans.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801890659
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
08/19/2008
Series:
Johns Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction
Edition description:
20
Pages:
96
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.50(d)

Meet the Author

William Jay Smith served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position now called Poet Laureate) from 1968 to 1970. His memoir, Army Brat, was widely acclaimed. A new memoir, Dancing in the Garden: A Bittersweet Love Affair with France, is forthcoming. It deals with his summer as a student in Tours in 1938, on the eve of World War II.

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