Written in the gothic tradition of James Dickey’s Buckdancer’s Choice, R. T. Smith’s latest volume of poetry, Brightwood, contains thirty-eight poems set in the American South. In this intellectual and emotionally powerful collection, southern music, religion, and culture interplay with nature.
Deeply aware of his southernness both on the surface (pickup trucks and firearms) and in depth (racial injustice and the peculiarities of masculinity) the narrator recounts episodes in which song, spirituality, and love for the natural world serve as antidotes to violence and torpor. Driven by memories of life in the rural, segregated South, the poems seek out beauty in an attempt to stave off loneliness, pain, and loss. Each asserts the value of detailed craft as a momentary stay against the winds of confusion. The lyrics are moving, the language crackles, and the past haunts every verse.
A good cut — sliver
by sliver — finds an owl’s eye
in the texture. You rasp and sand
for the curve of muscle, the feel
of bone, then smoke and varnish
for the whiskey sheen. When
it’s dry and strung, tune it to the wind
till it comes alive, brightwood again.
If a fiddle’s fashioned with such ardor,
it can stir the world’s first spark,
drawn the way healing always is —
from the stridor of the dark.
From “Brightwood” published in Brightwood: Poems by R. T. Smith. Copyright © 2003 by R. T. Smith. All rights reserved.
R. T. Smith 's fiction has been published in Best American Short Stories, New Stories from the South, Best American Mystery Stories, and two Pushcart Prize anthologies. He is the author of thirteen volumes of poetry and has received the Library of Virginia Poetry Award. Raised in Georgia and North Carolina, he now lives in Rockbridge County, Virginia. He is the editor of Shenandoah: The Washington and Lee University Review.