Other literary forms
Dave Smith’s productivity as a poet does not exhaust his pen. He has produced scores of reviews and essays on poetry and poetics, many of them as a columnist for American Poetry Review. Local Assays: On Contemporary American Poetry (1985) collects many of these pieces. His views on southern poetry and poetry in general, as well as brief memoirs, are contained in Hunting Men: Reflections on a Life in American Poetry (2006). Smith’s map of the modern poetic scene is revealed in The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets (1985), which he edited with David Bottoms. Smith also edited and wrote the introduction for The Pure Clear Word: Essays on the Poetry of James Wright (1982). In these activities, Smith has helped to define the critical context for his own work, for the poets of his generation, and for the canon of major influences on that generation. An enthusiastic reviewer, Smith has been faulted by some for excessive generosity. Nevertheless, his stature as a critic is rising to match his standing as a major poet of his era. He has also edited The Essential Poe (1991).
Smith’s novel, Onliness (1981), won critical acclaim. As Alan Bold wrote for the Times Literary Supplement (November 27, 1981), “Onliness is no tentative beginning, but an ambitious attempt to write the Great American Novel by bringing myth, archetype, allegory and abstraction to a fluent narrative.” The usually sober-minded poet became an adept prose stylist who unveiled a comic wit not often realized in his poetry. At once erudite, folksy, and bizarre, Onliness fashions a version of the American South that owes more to Flannery O’Connor than to William Faulkner, yet Smith has made it a region of his own. Southern Delights: Poems and Stories (1984), a collection mixing stories and poems, is a less satisfying display of Smith’s narrative skill.