Dave Smith Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

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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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dave Smith’s parents, Ralph Gerald Smith and Catherine Mary Cornwell, were both from working-class families, their ancestors the farmers and coal miners of Virginia and Maryland. The work ethic by which Ralph Smith was able to lift his family into the suburban middle class undoubtedly left its impression on the son, but there was no precedent for the boy’s future in poetry. Dave Smith read widely as a teenager, but he cites Hot Rod magazine and rock and roll, especially rhythm and blues, as influences on his sense of language that were no less significant than the classics of English and American literature. The fishermen and laborers of the tidewater region around Chesapeake Bay, near his home in Portsmouth, Virginia, also imbued his imagination with scenes and characters that would begin to appear in the poems he wrote in early adulthood.

In 1960 his father was killed in a car accident at the age of thirty-nine. Shortly afterward, at the University of Virginia, Smith made his first serious commitment to literature. After graduating with a B.A. in 1965, he took up teaching and coaching football at Poquoson (Virginia) High School, and he married Dolores Weaver (they would eventually have three children—Jeddie, Lael, and Mary Catherine). At Poquoson, a fishing village known to the natives as Bull Island, Smith began to hone his skill as a poet, finding in the local watermen the heroic subjects that would often inspire his most characteristic verse. In 1967 he entered a master’s program at Southern Illinois University, where he wrote a thesis on the poetry of James Dickey and edited Sou’wester, the student literary magazine. He received his M.A. in 1969, the year he was drafted into the Air Force. He served most of his tour of duty in Langley, Virginia, just a few miles from his sources of inspiration in Poquoson, and was able to continue to write and teach in the evenings. With his wife, he edited and published Back Door, a small magazine, and operated a chapbook press. After his discharge, Smith entered a doctoral program in creative writing at Ohio University, though he...

(The entire section is 870 words.)