David Jeddie Smith spent nearly all his first thirty years in or near the tidewater region of Virginia. The collection of towns and villages clustered around the fishing and shipbuilding economy of the lower Chesapeake Bay formed the scenes of his childhood. Born in Portsmouth, he began rearing his own family in nearby Poquoson. It was there, after graduating from the University of Virginia in 1965, that Smith began his teaching career at Poquoson High School. Soon after his marriage in 1966 to Deloras Mae Weaver, Smith traveled to Edwardsville, Illinois, to work toward a master’s degree at Southern Illinois University (1967-1969). Returning to Poquoson, Smith spent the next three years (January, 1969-January, 1972) on active duty in the Air Force, continuing to teach night classes at local colleges.
Smith began writing in the late 1960’s and ran his own small press, Back Door, for a number of years. The press’s colophon, a dilapidated shack, was an emblem not only for a typical shoestring small press operation but also for the shoestring lives of the characters that Smith would write about so often. The marginal but deeply felt and patterned lives of the Atlantic watermen provide the subject of Smith’s first small collection, Bull Island, and of individual poems in later volumes. People living on the brink always appeal to Smith.
The geography of Smith’s imagination embraces his own immediate region, his ancestors’ mid-Atlantic wanderings, and the cauldron of United States history: the Chesapeake from Norfolk to Baltimore, and the slow ascent westward to the mountains of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. In much of Smith’s work, the song of his time in this place becomes mixed with the lingering, ghostlike voices of landmarks and battlefields.
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