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.