Poet, Teacher, Writer, Editor

     Welcome to my web site.  In various capacities, I'm a poet, teacher, writer, and editor based in western Wisconsin near the Twin Cities.  My work is strongly rooted here, so in my poems you'll meet some of the people, animals, birds, flowers, and trees I encounter day to day, not least the wonderfully named kinnickinnic, or red osier dogwood or red willow, so plentiful in these parts.  I like the symbolism of kinnickinnic, so ready to root from a cutting that the Indians saw it as an emblem of resurrection.

     I've kept this site simple for easy navigation.  "About" will fill you in on a little biographical background.  "Poems" showcases a few poems with which I've been particularly happy over the years.  I'm using the "Blog" section to air occasional essays on literature, culture, and current affairs.  "Publications" provides a brief bibliography of my published work.  "Contact" tells you how to get in touch with me.  (I always welcome comments by readers, not to mention invitations to read or teach.)  And this home page does double duty as a calendar for upcoming events.  I hope you'll have as enjoyable a time glancing around this site as I've had putting it together. 


I Read the News Today, Oh Boy, International Times (UK), http://internationaltimes.it/I-read-the-news-today-oh-boy/

Oklahoma, 2017, International Times (UK), http://internationaltimes.it/oklahoma-2017/

New poem commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' classic:
Sergeant Pepper Summer, International Times (UK), http://internationaltimes.it/sergeant-pepper-summer/

For the Turtles, and Us, International Times (UK), http://internationaltimes.it/for-the-turtles-and-us/

The Clown of Aleppo, International Times (UK) http://internationaltimes.it/the-clown-of-aleppo/


Sunday, April 30, 2 p.m.  Publication reading for Poetry on the Side of Nature,  with Thomas R. Smith, James P. Lenfestey, Barbara Draper, Kate Hallett Dayton, and Joe Paddock,  Judson Baptist Church, Minneapolis.  Free.

Sunday, October 1, 1:30 p.m., Annual Tribute to John Lennon and the Beatles with Thomas R. Smith and Friends, River Falls Public Library, 140 Union Street, River Falls, WI, 1:30-3:30 p.m.  715/425-0905

Summer Offerings at the Loft Literary Center:

Unlocking the Very Brief Poem, East and West (single session)
Saturday, 10 - 3 p.m., June 29

     The very brief poem is ideal for those who want to capture essences, or the immediate flavor of some moment of living or flash of insight.  It is the poem of instant immersion in one's subject, with no preamble and no sequel.  It can also be the poem of piquant observation of life's little ironies.  It also has sometimes been employed as a conveyor of aphorism or wisdom.  In this workshop we'll explore all of these aspects of the very brief poem and more, beginning with the masters of Japanese forms such as the haiku and tanka and following their influence into the Western poetry of the past hundred years, especially prominent in the Imagists of the early twentieth century.  We'll consider the intricacies of bringing these forms into contemporary American language while looking at a range of international poets who've adapted the very brief poem to their personal styles.  This wide-ranging workshop will include great Eastern poets like Issa and Basho as well as Western poets as diverse as Jane Hirshfield and Ezra Pound.  Writing exercises will feature forms both Eastern and Western, including renga (linked verse) and the cinquain.  Small copy fee.  To register:


What the Prose Poem Can Do (single session)
Saturday, 10 - 3 p.m., July 20

     The French poet Baudelaire famously dreamed of "the miracle of a poetic prose" and put the prose poem on the world literary map.  This hybrid form has frequently confused poets:  what is it?  Prosy poetry or poetic prose?  Or is it a third thing?  More radical than free verse, prose poetry abandons not only rhyme and meter but the traditional poetic line itself in favor of the sentence and paragraph as basic units.  In this workshop, the instructor, who has been writing and publishing prose poems for over 40 years, will illustrate for participants the unique capacity of the prose poem for reaching into new, sometimes visionary content and tone, and speak in ways that ordinary poetry and prose cannot.  Tracing the modern prose poem from its origin in 19th century France, we will sample contemporary American poets in whose work the prose poem has taken root as a major mode of expression, including Nin Andrews, Robert Bly, Louis Jenkins, and Naomi Shihab Nye.  Participants will write prose poems of their own in both narrative and descriptive styles, experiencing some of the prose poem's amazing range and variety.  Small copy fee.  To register:


NEW:  WINDY DAY AT KABEKONA now available!

Windy Day at Kabekona: New and Selected Prose Poems samples four decades of Thomas R. Smith's devotion to the prose poem.  Inspired in the late 1970s by the visionary prose poetry of Rimbaud and Baudelaire, as well as American originators such as Robert Bly and Louis Jenkins, Smith has made the prose poem his own from his early surrealist-flavored efforts to later approaches emphasizing landscape and acutely-drawn character portraits.  Behind all his varied practice, Smith writes that he has felt "the salutory, restless pressure" of his models, pushing him to meet the high bar set by their example.

About half of the 80 poems gathered in Windy Day at Kabekona will be new to Smith's readers, with the others selected from his seven previous collections.  Nin Andrews, one of the acknowledged modern masters of the form, has praised Smith's work as "accessible and profound."  Windy Day at Kabekona showcases as never before the forty-year arc of his exploration of the enlivening possibilities of the contemporary prose poem.

Here is what some other respected masters of the prose poem are saying about Windy Day at Kabekona:

Thomas Smith is the child of the sleepy small towns in Wisconsin and of the wide-awake, reckless, let's-go-on-to-the-end spirit of the Sixties.  He knew he was destined to be a poet early on.  He tells stories well, and can set a scene like a Medieval painter.  In "Your Inner Face" he says, "It's this face you'd prefer to be known by.  When two people glimpse it in each other, we call that love -- and if someone should see all the secret faces at once, heaven."

--Robert Bly

Over the years Thomas R. Smith, along with Robert Bly and Louis Jenkins, has become one the masters of the midwestern prose poem. It's a meditative poem: simple, plain-spoken yet so much more, because underlying this simplicity is a quest for the spiritual truths that inform human experience. Smith's "acts of attention," his paying service to objects, nature, and human interactions veer effortlessly into the metaphorical where even a chance encounter with a raccoon can morph into a contemplation on our symbiotic relationship with the natural world.  In his preface to this collection, Smith reminds us of Robert Bly's contention that by its very nature the prose poem "helps to heal the wounds of abstraction." If anyone doubts Bly's words, I respectfully, and happily, direct them to Smith's Windy Day at Kabekona.

--Peter Johnson

These are poems of pure insight and beauty. Once I started reading them, I couldn't stop. Like Robert Bly, Louis Jenkins, and William Stafford before him, Thomas Smith's poems reflect upon the natural beauty of the Midwest, the inner life of the mystic, and our current geopolitical situation. Accessible and profound,  Smith is a poet to be savored--to be read, not once but again and again.

--Nin Andrews

Order your copy of Windy Day at Kabekona now at:

Also Available:  THE GLORY

Hear Garrison Keillor read "Advent Dawn" from The Glory on the December 24, 2015 episode of public radio's The Writer's Almanac at http://writersalmanac.org/episodes/20151224/

Read what some advance readers of this new collection have written:

Thomas R. Smith's new collection, The Glory, serves many glories--those of the natural world, of the American democratic dream, and of various individuals who do us all credit.  Yet, while remaining celebratory, Smith always looks unblinkingly at human history, "the thuggishness of ourselves," reminding us how we are "gravely / and fairly judged" by the wild creatures who encounter us warily.  While ranging from the micro -- an "insect hum" -- to the macro -- "the spill of the Milky Way" -- and in between invoking such icons as Woody Guthrie, Rachel Carson, and Nelson Mandela, Smith always exemplifies Simone Weil's claim that paying attention is the highest form of prayer -- his steady and reverent attentiveness to the world in which he finds himself is the armature of this book.  And attention includes engagement: the Sixties play a role here as background for poems of contemporary civic activism that confirm the personal as political and vice-versa.  When Smith compares the sun's rising to the birth of a child and wonders "what gift" to bring him, the reader knows the gift has already been delivered, Smith's poetry itself.  Like the "music-house" for shelter one poem speaks of, Smith offers us for shelter his poetry-house, solidly built, roomy, and full of treasures.
                --Philip Dacey, author of Church of the Adagio

This substantial, wide-ranging book is an inspiration and a glory. The boy who carried the news to the sick, the housebound and the lonely was the messenger Mercury, his wings a single-speed Schwinn bike. In his maturity Smith brings that life-saving news to us that can only be found in poetry. The intervening years have done their work well in him: "I am better for living," he writes, having discovered the reverence youth had kept hidden from himself in his heart. Over and over in these poems we discover with Smith one version and then another of that reverence. We are made aware in them, too, of those years of development that were the chrysalis "in which he surrenders / to the mysterious fluidity by which / creatures weary of creeping form their wings." In this collection Smith has fully taken wing.
                --Joe Paddock, author of Circle of Stones

These poems are the salt of the earth -- they come from pure, simple roots, natural-born and straight-shooting.  Thomas R. Smith is a grown-up, in-your-face, deeply tender poet who is not afraid to sing of his reverence and love for family, friends, and country -- not afraid to express his kinship with animals, insects and plants -- and not afraid to write about political, cultural and environmental figures, naming both heroes and villains, enemies and compatriots.  Smith moves from early memories of life in a small Midwestern town through decades of seeking, losing, and finding purpose and meaning in his life.  He accepts and also resists defeat, the sad song that underlies many of the dreams he cherished as a younger man.  He ultimately succeeds in his efforts to "embrace every sunset given us" as he faces both the tragic truth and glory of existence.
                --Freya Manfred, author of Speak, Mother

And watch for Windy Day at Kabekona: New and Selected Prose Poems, forthcoming from White Pine Press, Fall 2018.

You can order The Glory and other books by Thomas R. Smith from Red Dragonfly Press at this address:  www.reddragonflypress.org/smith.html

     Poetry on the Side of Nature:  Writing the Nature Poem as an Act of Survival,
Folded Word Press
     Storm Island, poems, Red Dragonfly Press
Watch this space for news.


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