cover image The World Below the Window: Poems 1937-1997

The World Below the Window: Poems 1937-1997

William Jay Smith, Smith. Johns Hopkins University Press, $48 (264pp) ISBN 978-0-8018-5859-8

Excluding Smith's translations, longer poems, poetry for children and much of his light verse, this new and selected volume both slims down and augments 1990's Collected Poems. Appearing for the first time, the original, absorbing seven-part series ""Indian Removal"" searchingly explores the poet's Choctaw heritage by dramatizing America's shameful past on a hot, tear-laden, swampy Southern stage: ""There will be no surrender, General. There will be no peace;/ only the murderer who waits, only the poetry that kills."" The sobering, hard audacity of these lines can be traced back to Smith's early lyrics (like ""Night Music"" and ""Chrysanthemums"") in which formal skill indebted to Hardy and MacLeish barely masks the moral energies shaping concise, rhymed quatrains. Smith moved on, as this well-chosen selection shows, to lusher scenes, wittily evoked self-caricatures (""Mr. Smith"" and ""The Typewriter Bird"") and meditations on poetic tradition, as in ""The Descent of Orpheus"": ""O so much/ Is lost with every day: the black vanes/ Turn in an angry wind, the roses burn/ To ashes on a skeleton of wire."" The newest poems confront aging in deftly achieved, Romantic tones. Throughout this summary of a formidable career, Smith's images reveal the inescapability of memory, testifying to its enduring capacity to affirm the power of the imagination. (May)