The Distinguished Visiting Writers Series, organized by Ithaca College’s Writing Department, brings accomplished writers to the campus throughout the fall and spring. As part of their visit, the writers offer a public reading that is hosted by the college. This past week I listened to a poetry reading by Bruce Smith. Smith is the author of six books of poetry, his latest titled Devotions. Smith acknowledged the content of his poems were hard, even for him. As I sat listening, I felt myself wandering through, veering on and off the track of the line—many time simply for the shear length of them.
My favorite poem he read is titled “Hörlust,” which translates to (as the first line of the poem reveals) “hearing passion.” Sound is a theme that followed Smith’s work, as he focuses closely on the meaning and feeling sound permits. In the poem, Smith strives to convey the intensity and chaos of Hörlust. The pace moves quickly, and relies less on imagery and more on representations of sound and noise: “When it’s quiet, but it’s never quiet, I hear the humor hiss, that mammal or reptile, in the ark somewhere and the caterwaul of the pulse and the god thud. It’s in here. It’s nowhere. When we wanted Manuel Noriega out of his asylum in the diplomatic mission of the Vatican we played Van Halen’s “Panama”–Pan-neh-mah-ah-ah, whoo, until the Vatican complained.”After the reading Smith went on to name some of the musicians from which he draws inspiration from across musical genres and time, from James Brown to Kendrick Lamar. During the question and answer period at the end of the reading, Smith said something I appreciated and am still thinking about. He said something along the lines of: “Dashes are nothing but exclamations sideways.”
Other visitors this spring include fiction writer and memoirist Yiyun Li, who will give a reading on February 28, and poet, critic, and essayist Stephen Burt, who will speak on March 28.