cover image Devotions


Bruce Smith. Univ. of Chicago, $18 paper (88p) ISBN 978-0-226-76435-1

Smith's energetic, muscular and all-around superb sixth collection appears to contain almost everything. The onrushing poems in long-lined free verse, long sentences and longer lists address the most intimate subjects%E2%80%94"the faces of all those you love while you're loving/ the one you love"%E2%80%94along with the most far-flung: his book throws down an almost Whitmanesque challenge to anyone who says that present-day poetry cannot see America whole. As in earlier books, Smith (Songs for Two Voices) does well by the grittier, and the more macho, people and things of these States, such as "an ex-con... on parole, careful to defer to the pushy,/ the striving, the vaulting who have inherited the earth since his send up/ for his crimes." Several pages look with a hard tenderness at townscapes and people of the old industrial heartland, from the pollution, corruption, and rock and roll clubs of 1980s Providence, R.I., to present-day Syracuse, N.Y. (where Smith teaches). But he is never narrow, nor single-minded: global climate change and the scope of all history ("We were the infinite apes at infinite keyboards"), the sonnet and the history of sonnets, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, 9/11, a Chinese restaurant in Alabama, high school shop class, maternal elegy, Pindaric ode, and stellar astronomy all light up at least a page. Smith is consistently more ambitious than most of his peers. (Apr.)