The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2000

Dave Smith, Author Louisiana State University Press $21.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-8071-2549-6
After 17 collections--including two previous new and selecteds--one would expect the indefatigable Smith to settle down some, but not so. Proceeding chronologically (which here means back-to-front), one finds that a formal elegance and a maritime musical panache akin to early Lowell mark Smith's early work most clearly, whether meditating on oyster boats where ""the currents carried/ cloisters of murk,/ miracles that bloom/ luminous and unseen, sweet things to be/ brought up, bejeweled, culled from husks"" or simply capturing ""the big-jawed Bluefish, ravenous, sleek muscle slamming,/ convoys rank after rank, wheeling through flume and flute of blood."" Poems rooted to the South show a delighted attention to its quirks and an interest in familial progressions. When Smith, however, abandons this often patriarchal legacy and opts for a more confessional tone, his music begins to unravel, giving way to prosaic speech (""It/ might help to say how in my head/ she slumps helplessly, my arms/ don't know what to do with her"") and bathetic doggerel (""and your voice goes/ spattering against my fingers like ache's shredding/ that couldn't be held back any longer""). Fortunately, ""The Holy Mother of Connecticut Avenue"" kicks off the book with a mortal vengeance--""death's hot shit piled up around us, a stinking smoke/ coiled like BO out of skinless wires, on floorboards licked,/ as if all we wanted was flame-touched at last""--and the wick catches anew. While not the major achievement a third try at a new and selected might suggest, there is enough energy here to merit a look. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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Hardcover - 280 pages - 978-0-8071-2548-9
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