Presenter of the National Book Awards

2011 National Book Award Finalist,
Poetry

Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith

Devotions

University of Chicago Press

Interview by Cat Richardson

Cat Richardson: How did you react to your nomination?

In response to this question, Bruce Smith sent me an mp3 of the excellent song “Just a Little Overcome” by The Nightingales featuring Tommy Tate.

CR: All of the poem titles in your book begin by being classified as devotions. How is a devotion different from an ode?

BS: If an ode is a single subject meditation, then these are Odes, and yet I wanted to skew it slightly toward the devotional: what we profess to love [as a nation: baseball, oil, or as a person: Al Green, coin-op laundries, crows, or as a writer: the unbidden].

CR: You've written devotions to things as opposite as the bus to Utica and the sun. How do you decide what needs devotion? Did you have these things in mind from the beginning, or was there a kind of building and growth—did things make themselves apparent—once you started writing? How did you put the book together?

BS: The word "devotion" kept appearing in early drafts as a sign to me that the slightly ADHD form of pacing and humming and self-talking and swerving and longing and looking out the window and scribbling, a "curious puffing," was trying to cross over into a somehow more ritualized form of attention and inquiry that I thieved from a religious context.  Putting a book together escapes me, but I tried to have a decent entrance that was engaging and have a decent dismount to the gymnastic maneuvers that wasn't pompous.

CR: The poems in Devotions are brimming with internal rhymes and echoes. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship to sound? Is this a devotional quality in your work?

BS: The acoustic qualities of poetry supply a beat, a pulse [a groove and a break] and a value not found in the semantic values of the words.  My relationship to sound is like my relationship to my kid making noise in the other room; I wish she'd be quiet, but I love her and I can't help listening to and being moved by the sounds.


Cat Richardson's poetry and prose has appeared in Tin House and Pleiades. She recently completed her term as the Raab Editorial Fellow at Poets & Writers and is working towards and MFA from NYU. Currently, she is the student coordinator for the Goldwater Hospital Writing Workshop and managing editor of Washington Square, washingtonsquarereview.com.