91 thirteen-liners comprise American poet Dave Smith's 1995 Fate's Kite, his (to its release) 15th (!) collection in 25 years. Now, this last fact, combined with Smith's position as English prof at Louisiana State U, gives long pause for concern. The publish-or-perish necessity, if not an outright marketing ploy to cover inferior verse by throwing up on the wall and hoping something sticks, is often at least a forced competition with other academic poets jockeying for the inner rail. But I'd read some intelligent poetics from Smith before, and was intrigued by how that translated to his own poetry.
Fate's Kite is a delight, a meditation on a life from toddlerhood to tottering old timer. The ordering could easily have become monotonous in tone and style, a cumbersome thematic exercise, but Smith's lines are authoritative yet graceful, mixing an elegance for language and sound with an unflinching appraisal of personal experience.
The opening to "Viking Scribbles", the 6th poem in the 7 poem sequence entitled "A Gift for Seamus": "August. I watch the shipyard lights walk water/to Craney Island. My Dad's dead. Do spirits/walk like fireflies threading life in the weed-tips,".
From "Otter Like a Muse": "Lithe as an otter, body of gold smoke".
From "Compost Pile": "what to do/with the dead dog that outweighs my old wife".
From "Nine Ball": "My anger's long for the room of broken chairs in rows,/spittoons with death's brown beauty breeding its glue".
From "Doctor's Office": "There's never anything good to read is there?/Only plenty of the dated stuff, like deaths,/the usual missing page of Field and Stream,/ ... last year's Time's Man of the Year,/the crisis still unsolved".
Well, there're plenty of good lines, and entire poems, to read from Smith's slant.