I'm honored to say that I'll be sharing the stage with poet Arthur Smith this Thursday evening (7pm at the Laurel Theater) for the monthly meeting of the Knoxville Writers' Guild. Here are the details:

Poets Read, Disclose Writing Process at May Meeting


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Arthur Smith and Joshua Robbins, both award-winning poets, will read from their latest books at the May Knoxville Writers’ Guild meeting.

The event, which will be open to the public, begins at 7 p.m., Thursday, May 2, at the Laurel Theater, at the corner of Laurel Avenue and 16th Street in Fort Sanders. A $2 donation is requested at the door. The building is handicapped accessible. Additional parking is available at Redeemer Church of Knoxville, 1642 Highland Ave.

“We will each read from our new books and speak about our respective processes for writing lyric poetry and how we each attempt to explore a deep-seated faith in the mysterious and redemptive powers of poetry,” Robbins said.

Smith’s “The Fortunate Era,” published by Carnegie Mellon University Press earlier this year, follows a narrator through personal loss and – looming in the future – the threat of our own extinction. In the process, the poems range from the microscopic to the cosmic, from the worlds of literature, science, culture, politics and religion

Robbins writes from a suburban landscape of strip mall bars and vacant lots in which addicts and itinerant preachers, hymns and the turnpike's whine are all made to confess, to testify to the hard truths of faith and doubt in middle-class America, in “Praise Nothing,” published by University of Arkansas Press earlier this year.

“It should be a fun evening,” Smith said.

Both men teach at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Robbins teaches literature and creative writing, and Smith is a professor of English. Robbins has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations, and his other recognitions include the James Wright Poetry Award, the “New South” Prize and selection for the “Best New Poets” anthology.

Smith is the author of four collections of poetry and his awards include a “Discovery” / “The Nation” Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes.

Copies of both books will be available for purchase at the meeting.

This event, in some ways, feels like the culmination of years of work. Back in the Oregon MFA days, I took a seminar from Garrett Hongo on elegy. I worked for Garrett as his assistant that first year and, one evening, as he often did, Garrett called me and said I should read something for our discussion the following Wednesday. I was to read his "good friend Art Smith's book Elegy on Independence Day." I read it, devoured it, ended up writing my first grad school paper on it.

Art was a big reason I ended up at the University of Tennessee for my PhD work. I've learned so much from him about trade craft, poetics, the writing life, how to be a better man.

(Students: if you're looking for someone to blame for my "six lines per day" assignments, Art Smith's your guy.)

I'm honored to read with him. And I'm proud to call him my friend.

Hope to see you Thursday evening. Here's a poem from his most recent collection, The Fortunate Era:


Back then, for all I cared,
God could have been a spider
Glossy as a buttercup
Sunning in the garden
Of the first woman
Time gave me to
And then took back.

What I mean is, once, like ice,
Something pierced my heart
With a light
So fierce
It heightened
Every thin-stemmed flower after.

That’s how I think of God now,
Each time—
Going back to her—
That immense and holy cold, an arrow
sinking in.

Arthur Smith
from The Fortunate Era

Other poems by Arthur Smith posted at Against Oblivion:

"Elegy on Independence Day"
"The Brilliant Days"
"Golden Gate"
"Sea of Blessings"