Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

The Fixation: A Discussion with R. T. Smith

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

The Fixation: A Discussion with R. T. Smith

Article excerpt

Distinguished Southern poet and fiction writer R. T. Smith was bom in Washington, D. C., in 1947 and raised in Georgia and North Carolina. He was educated at Georgia Tech, Charlotte College, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Appalachian State University, where he received an MA in English and founded Cold Mountain Review. For nineteen years he taught at Auburn University, starting as an instructor and concluding in 1995 as alumni writer-in-residence and co-editor of Southern Humanities Review. Since then, he has served as editor of Shenandoah at Washington and Lee University, where he was named writer-in-residence in 2008 and teaches courses in fiction writing and literature. He lives in Rockbridge County, Virginia, with his wife, the writer Sarah Kennedy.

A lover of bluegrass and old time music, Smith is also an avid birder (partial to the pileated), a student of the American Civil War, a collector of pottery, a fisherman, and a lover of western and mystery films. He has in the past been a hunter, a photographer, a surveyor, a basketball coach, and a journalist.

Smith has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Humanities, the Alabama State Arts Council, Arts International, the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, the Wurlitzer Foundation, and other agencies. He has received North Carolina's Brockman Award for poetry, the Carole Weinstein Prize for Poetry, and two Poetry Book of the Year awards from the Library of Virginia. In 2007, he accepted the Virginia Governor's Award for Artistic Excellence on behalf of Shenandoah.

Smith's four collections of fiction include Faith (River City Pub, 1995), Uke Rivers Delivers (Louisiana State UP, 2006), The Calaboose Epistles (Iris P, 2009), and Sherburne (SF Austin P, 2012). His fourteenth collection of poetry is titled In the Night Orchard: New and Selected Poems (Texas Review P, 2014). His other poetry collections include Rural Route (Tamarack, 1981), The Cardinal Heart (Livingston P, 1991), Trespasser (Louisiana State UP, 1996), Messenger (Louisiana State UP, 2001), Brightwood (Louisiana State UP, 2003), The Hollow Log Lounge (U of Illinois P, 2003), Outlaw Style (U of Arkansas P, 2007), and The Red Wolf: A Dream of Flannery O'Connor (Louisiana Literature P, 2013). He is co-editor of Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets of Virginia.

Smith is an important figure in Southern letters, but it seems his legacy is often defined by his editorship of Shenandoah, one the most respected journals in the United States, rather than his writing. However, Smith's writing proves dynamic, textural, and wholly original. Taking his poetry as an example, Smith's work is centered on myriad topics, created with a richness that recognizes the importance of lucidity, sound, and sense. His work is full of sensorial lushness. Most importantly, Smith manages to encompass a great many themes in his work, illuminating the reader with his significant intelligence. Smith's work transcends provincialism, yet helps complicate in the best ways the notions of the "Southern writer."

Smith is especially important to new writers, because his work demonstrates how the infusion of imagination-not mere ornament, but genuine imaginai resonance-helps anchor his work in reality that, as James Dickey once said, is "realer than real."* To new readers of Smith's work, the recently released In the Night Orchard: New and Selected Poems will serve to introduce Smith's wide range and poetic maturation.

In this interview, Smith reveals his epistemology about writing-both poetry and prose-and acknowledges the different states of mind each practice engenders. The interview also explores Smith's love of different modes of humor, his ideas about the muse, his literary forebears, and his career in editing.

Marietta, Georgia

WW: Thank you for being here, Rod. I want to begin by asking about the idea of mental preparedness when vacillating between the writing of literary genres. …

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