Flyover Country

Princeton Univ. (Series of Contemporary Poets). Sept. 2018. 128p. ISBN 9780691181561. $45; pap. ISBN 9780691181578. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9780691184029. POETRY
In this heartland journey, former Wallace Stegner Fellow Smith takes us along deer paths and cattle trails, tumbling into cornfields, and by barbed-wire fences that "clarify the prairie." Elegantly delivered though these portraits may be, they aren't just pretty pastorals. Travelers are told "Don't trust the bullet-riddled signs," boys recall the spooky story of a lad lost forever among the cornstalks, and oak saplings "sensed the wire tapping/ their bodies…// Until they began to believe/ they needed it/ In order to stand." Smith capably sees deeper meaning or darker substance where rural steadiness might lull, but he's never self-consciously showy. Poems about a bullied child or the neighbor taunted as a vampire ("the poor man probably just worked third-shift/ at Honeywell") quietly state their business, and the invidious effect of living near the glue factory is summed up thus: "You knew horses/ were what hung the gold and silver/ stars in the firmament of your notebook."
VERDICT Charming work for many readers.
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