Episode 9

Erin Elizabeth Smith

Erin Elizabeth Smith is the Executive Director for Sundress Publications and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. Her third full-length poetry collection, Down, was released in 2020 by Stephen F. Austin State University Press. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Guernica, Ecotone, Mid-American, Tupelo Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, and Willow Springs, among others. She earned her PhD in Creative Writing from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi and is now a Distinguished Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Tennessee. She is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Links:

Read "Alice Gives Advice to Dorothy"

Read "February in Knoxville" and other poems by Smith at Menacing Hedge

Erin Elizabeth Smith's page at Sundress Publications

Two poems by Erin Elizabeth Smith at The Los Angeles Review

Three poems by Erin Elizabeth Smith at The Superstition Review

"Plating the Poem, Reclaiming the Story: A Conversation with Erin Elizabeth Smith"

Mentioned in this episode:

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Transcript
Alan May:

Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today we’ll hear Erin Elizabeth Smith read two poems from her most recent book Down. Many of the poems in Down reimagine the character Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Also, several of the poems are set here in Tennessee. Here are “Alice Gives Advice to Dorothy” and “February in Knoxville.”

Erin Elizabeth Smith:

"Alice Gives Advice to Dorothy"

Never get in a man’s hot-air balloon–

he’ll only ferry you

to the family who opened you

to him before. There you are a child

to be tamed, turned to aprons, dustbins,

white pies cooling on windowsills.

He will take your hand and make you

something his, where in this land

you are given a crown, jeweled walkway,

a horse that flickers deliciously

from one hued gemstone to the next.

They will lose you again anyhow,

thrown to the slippery sea that opens

its maw to devour girls.

What you left to straw men

and clockwork hearts will have been changed

and they will blame the women–lazy

queens, mirrored heads of sorceresses

and you, so foolish to believe home

is something you’d want to click your heels for,

a place where we aren’t just stories

told to keep others tight in their own beds.

"February in Knoxville"

The lawn finally goes brown

with a dusting of leaves and turned earth.

The stalks of daffodils invert

and the purple husks of berries

hang like baskets from their vines.

February, and there's no more snow,

just the showy wind making everything

crackle. Still, the city blinks in blue

and white, its people wrapped

liked crunchy gifts. I breathe

into cupped palms, walk

the streets that turn

into others, and watch

as the sun kicks light off our city's

strange sphere. We cannot choose

where we love—a place picks us

from the flyaway denizens who root

and seed, from the boxes that open

and reseal with no hands to lift them.

Sometimes we empty and are never

filled. Sometimes the rosemary

lasts through winter and mint comes

back like a hero on her masted ship.

And sometimes the sweetness

of cities and seasons is enough

to clean the body of its harm,

and we must take

what lives to the lips,

to see if maybe,

maybe it can heal us again.

Alan May:

You just heard Erin Elizabeth Smith read her poems “Alice Gives Advice to Dorothy” and “February in Knoxville.” She was kind enough to record these poems for us at her home in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Erin Elizabeth Smith earned her PhD in Creative Writing from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. She's the Executive Director for Sundress Publications and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. Smith is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, and her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Guernica, Ecotone, Mid-American, Tupelo Quarterly, Crab Orchard Review, and others. She’s a Distinguished Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Tennessee and the Poet Laureate of Oak Ridge, TN. You can find Erin Elizabeth Smith’s book Down in our online catalog. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for the The Beat.

About the Podcast

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The Beat
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About your host

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Alan May

Alan May works as a librarian at Lawson McGhee Library. In his spare time, he reads and writes poetry. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New York Quarterly, The Hollins Critic, The Idaho Review, DIAGRAM, Plume, Willow Springs, and others. He has published three books of poetry.