Dave Smith Reads His Poetry
I took a great many courses in Classical Greek when I was in college, although I was not a good student. The language of Pindar and Aristophanes is very complex, requiring hard, intensive, disciplined study, something I wasn't particularly interested in at the time. Or conceivably, as we say, "good at."
Still, there was a reason for my enrolling in all those courses - it had to do with my interest in philosophy and language. I wasn't so much interested in translating Greek texts into English as in learning the words and phrases of those ancient people who invented the civilized world as we know it. Long ago, when the classics were essential to a gentleman's education, there was a saying that "The Greeks had a word for it." I was curious about the collective mind implicit in such comprehensive articulateness.
The rewards of my indifferent scholarship have been desultory and few: and yet, occasionally there has been an unexpected benefit in the form of a connection that would not have been possible without it. One such pleasant connection was made many years ago when I was asked to introduce Dave Smith at a poetry reading at Galbreath Chapel, on the Ohio University campus. This was of course a happy challenge, since Dave was a friend whose poetry I greatly admired; and yet, I was faced with the problem of how to convey his quite extraordinary gifts and personality.
Then it came to me: he exemplified a signal virtue that, yes, the Greeks had a word for. What so impressively characterized Dave Smith's character, attitude, ambition and effectiveness as a poet was what the Greeks called spoudaioteros - a word that Matthew Arnold translated as "higher seriousness," but actually signifies much more than that, encompassing what we mean by intensity, passionate focus, zealousness, commitment, excellence.
It seemed to me that this was what Dave Smith's poetic instinct was and what he was essentially about. If it were not ludicrous and perhaps even demeaning to apply the word "professional" to a poet, the word could in its most honorific sense apply to him, because professionalism is in essence a lofty ideal. For those who are called it, it demands a sacrifice in the name of an artistic tradition - in its more common forms, the arts of medicine, law, teaching...but also, far less commonly, the art of poetry. At its heart, this sort of professionalism has little to do with making one's living by the practice of an art (techne, rather than poesis); it is so austere a commitment that it can be embraced only with that higher seriousness which is indistinguishable from excellence.
That is what characterizes Dave Smith's singular gift. Implicit in his language is a celebration of the variety, gleam, and thickness of things, in contrast to the babble of conventional discourse that is easy, pallid, twiggy, abstract...not serious. His is also a gift most felicitous for a bibliophile, because the passion to collect books is a response to the imprint of wonder and beauty upon matter; it is a marriage of carnality and spirit, which is the essence of poetry and the crossroads of the mind.
by Jack Matthews
Listen to Dave Smith read his poetry