Words by the Water

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,...

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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.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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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.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801890659
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 8/19/2008
  • 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.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents


Author's Note     xi
Prelude     3
The Atoll     5
The Atoll     7
Of Islands     8
Note: Palmyra     9
On His Dark Bed     10
Reflection     11
The Garden     12
The Flight     13
Note: The Atoll     15
The Hunt     17
Willow Wood     19
Invitation to Ground Zero     20
Contemplation of Conspiracy     21
The Poor Peacock and the Rich Peacock     22
Perfect Lives: Portraits     23
Riddles     24
The Artist and the Arena     26
The Hunt     27
The Deer and The Dachshund: Light Verse and Satire     29
Dachshunds     31
Author, Author     32
The Literary Life     33
Epitaphs     36
On the Banks of the Mississippi     37
Oxford Doggerel     39
Translations     45
Harry Martinson: The Forest of Childhood     47
Harry Martinson: Peonies     48
Harry Martinson: The Henhouse     49
Paul Valery: Pomegranates     50
Jules Laforgue: The Far West     51
Kjell Hjern: On the Growth of Hair in Middle Age     53
Jean-Max Tixier: Writing     55
Basho: Haiku     56
Sandor Weores: The Lunatic Cyclist     57
Sandor Weores: Boundless Space     59
The Greatest Wealth: Wedding Songs     61
Now Touch the Air Softly     63
The Bouquet     65
Song for a Country Wedding     67
The Greatest Wealth     69
Words By The Water     71
Old Cherokee Woman's Song     73
Song of the Dispossessed     74
A Rational Departure     76
Rhetorical Question     77
Cats in a Summer Garden     78
To the Memory of Hubert Creekmore (1907-1966)     79
A Green Oasis     80
Woman at the Piano     81
Words by the Water     82
Acknowledgments     83
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