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Its Ghostly Workshop


Southern Messenger Poets

88 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations


  Paperback / 9780807150306 / March 2013

From the Mediterranean to the American West, the poems in Ron Smith’s new collection move across time and place to find reliable truths through personal observation. Beyond his own experiences Smith draws from the lives of notable and diverse figures—Edward Teller, Edgar Allan Poe, Mickey Mantle, Ezra Pound, Robert Penn Warren, Jesse Owens, Leni Riefenstahl, and many others. 

Its Ghostly Workshop probes the fallibility of philosophy while strengthening the quest for certainty. Wondering and weighing, these are poems capable of conviction as well as doubt. Like the city of Rome, the subject at the book’s center, Its Ghostly Workshop aims to rewire us, to “virus” us, to “rush” us “with visionary blazes, cascades / of memory, incandescent logic.”

Ron Smith was Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2012 to 2014. He holds the George Squires Chair of Distinguished Teaching and serves as Writer-in-Residence at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Virginia, where he is also an adjunct associate professor at the University of Richmond. Smith is the author of three other poetry collections: Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery (1988), Moon Road (2007), and Its Ghostly Workshop (2013).

Praise for Its Ghostly Workshop

“Smith displays remarkable forethought and flexibility....[he] expertly commands the elements that comprise his latest collection.”—Blackbird

“To call poems plainspoken I believe to be a compliment--but only if the plain is uniquely plain and the spoken is really spoken, i.e., you instantly recognize an authentic voice. In poem after poem this is the case with the poems in Its Ghostly Workshop.”—Thomas Lux

“This is Ron Smith at his best, loving art but mocking it with gritty wisdom, bored but digging "Yeatsian" into authentic lines, and propelling immediate passion beyond wit alone.”—Jeffrey Beck, Aethlon

“Intellectual travelogue merges with literary tour in these intricate creations and re-creations. Varied, fluent, fluid, and possessing a kind of free-wheeling formality, the poems traverse timescapes, frame landscapes, and introduce characters that will delight the discerning.”—Betty Adcock, author of Intervale: New and Selected Poems

“A compelling convergence of the near and the far, Its Ghostly Workshop, offers a version of the particular that yields a haunting enormity, and a glimpse of coherence amid our machinations and lush debris. At the heart of the matter bides a compassionate heart, for which I say Δόξα το Θεώ.”—Scott Cairns, author of Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected

“Ron Smith knows we are Its Ghostly Workshop. Whether we meet it in Rome, or in literature, or in our parents, we bear dead history forward; whether we meet it in our bodies, or in the bodies of others, or in the echo of a shout in the street, we ‘Remember the memorable and let the rest go.’ This masterful book is a lathe, our selves its material. The unmemorable is excised by its blade. What remains shines.”—T. R. Hummer, author of Ephemeron

“Herman Melville wrote, ‘I like a man who dives. Any fish can swim near the surface but it takes a great whale to go down stairs five miles or more.’ Melville could well have been describing Ron Smith in Its Ghostly Workshop, which undertakes—with stunning wit and imagination—a descent into personal history and western civilization relating to the rise of Christianity amid the grandeur of Rome.”—Jack Higgs, author of God in the Stadium: Sports and Religion in America

“‘That plain vision is visionary.’ Thus does poet Ron Smith observe in Its Ghostly Workshop. Smith’s point is that perception itself is ‘more than half creation’; toss in the mind’s eye and the result is never simply the thing itself, is always a thing rendered by our human and social capacities. To say as much by book’s end is, of course, to set the bar against which the foregoing poems must be measured, for if plain vision is visionary and if the visionary is the realm of art, then we must distinguish between what is merely visionary, and truly, bracingly so. And given Smith’s penchant for homage — Eliot and Pound, to name two, albeit in the case of Pound said homage takes the form of withering critique — and travelogue — peregrinations in and around Rome, for instance — and ekphrasis — of Caravaggio, with serious erudition on casual display throughout — the challenge he sets for himself is to prove more a visionary than a, well, visionary-qua-commentator. Simply to chart experience as such is never enough — literary art is, among other things, the art of charging experience with a sense of the urgencies entailed in doing so. Complicating matters is that fully three-quarters of the poems in this volume are ‘for’ someone, occasionally a poet of some renown but more often, from what I gather, the poet’s friends or acquaintances. And so the conversation, as it were, with art, with literary history, with place as such is as much a matter of sustaining intellectual community as of establishing aesthetic (historical, poetic) lineage. And so: I must admit to being not a little envious of the poetry on exhibit here, which at its best is at once searching and unflinching. One of my favorite poems in the volume, ‘Yankees,’ manages to bring together, from a young Southerner’s perspective, both admiration for my beloved Bronx Bombers and the virulent racism on obvious display ‘under clouds glinting / with Russian missiles.’ By poem’s end, ‘those Yankees / on the airwaves, on the front page, and all their black / mouthy brothers, Kennedys and Kings, soon in the ground’ end up ‘somehow also high above us, immortal, deities of death, / sucking the air out of the gasping Confederacy.’ Indeed — and to turn to the title poem again, ‘advice’ to the poet’s grandson — such insight gives ample evidence of why one must ‘Have faith in the truth / and its hermitage, its ghostly workshop,’ but never ‘wield too long nor grip too hard / what you take for truth.’ ‘Be always prepared / to let it go,’ counsels grandpa, but adds, ‘Let it go.’ I wish I could write like that.”—Joe D’Amato, author of Sipping Coffee @ Carmela’s

Ron Smith Extras

Two Poems (Plume)

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