his resemblance grows on me year by year.
When the midnight sun of my generation rose,
I threw him down in pieces, but now
the old antagonisms drop away
and I'm flooded again with the power of loving him.
These words from "Admiring My Father" capture beautifully an incredible movement, from Thomas R. Smith's Horse of Earth to his latest book The Dark Indigo Current. In Horse of Earth we have a father of broken promises ("My Father Promised Me a Sword") and asks in ("Late For Thanksgiving Dinner") "Having dropped his self-protection, /
how could he be anyone's protector?"
Following his father's death, we have "Affectionate Witness," as he reminisces about the phone call he received every year on his birthday, when his father would recount rushing his mother to the hospital.
(All three of these poems were first published in M.E.N. Magazine or Men's Voices and here on MenWeb.)
Thomas R. Smith is an internationally published poet in his own right, and author of the very popular What Happened When He Went Out for a Loaf of Bread?, the only anthology of the work of perhaps Canada's best poet of the 20th century. He has also worked closely with Robert Bly for over a decade, on poetry and on "men's movement" issues. Thus, Thomas was selected to write an essay on Robert Bly and the men's movement for the pamphlet the McKnight Foundation published in awarding Robert its 2000 Distinguished Artist award. And Robert joined Thomas for a tape of readings from the Nowlan anthology (portions of which are MenWeb MP3 WebCasts).
Yet his plain yet vivid imagery reminds me as much of the poetry of William Stafford as that of Bly in The Silence of Snowy Fields. You can see it in "The Road to Kenora
before he moves into grief over his father's death.
Fifty miles above the border
I began to notice them,
five or six granite
rocks piled in roughly
human shapes every few
hundred feet. All afternoon
I'd pressed northward along
Lake of the Woods, and now,
months after the funeral,
felt unaccompanied by my
father for the first time.
His use of imagery is often startling. Robert Bly (The Sibling Society), Robert A. Johnson (Contentment), James Hillman (The Soul's Code) and Marion Woodman (The Maiden King) have all spoken forcefully of the shallowness of a materialistic consumer society epitomized by shopping malls. But who expresses the shallowness of these comforts at a time of father-grief more effectively than Thomas Smith in "The Reply," as he wonders What good have these poems done?
The question insisted relentlessly
with every mile I drove into
strip-malled heartland that radiant
spring day. My forty-seven years,
my choice and stubborn practice ...
Later, calmed by a motel's
plastic assurances, I slept, with
miniature golf outside the window,
and dreamt we'd been baking bread.
He then juxtaposes images of life-giving bread with the horrifying image of a Portuguese chapel with a wall built entirely with the bones of 5,00 Franciscan monks and nuns. Bread ... life ... death ...
There is an exhibit at the Seattle Center's Opera House, a wall of bread pans facing outward. It's a Holocaust exhibit by a local artist, with pictures of the kitchen in the Nazi death camp framed by the wall of bread pans. And father-grief? The other image that came to my mind as I read "The Reply" is T.A. Delmore's poem here on MenWeb, "Dad's Bread Bowl--Ceramic" Mr. Delmore has continued his father's tradition of baking bread for his family once a week-a father giving life to his family.
Thomas R. Smith is part of the "baby-boomer" generation, the generation now moving through mid-life issues and facing their own mortality as many deal with their fathers' deaths and the generation that was so deeply interested in the "men's movement." He speaks eloquently and effectively to issues that are all to real in these men's lives.
Thank you, Thomas, for your gifts.