Smith3 – by Steven B. Smith
I like to call this image Blue Brahma

When I initially conceived of this favorite poets series, Smith was one of the first folks to come to mind.  I stumbled across him for the first time, oddly enough, while I was doing my Weekend Tao Te Ching blog series on MySpace last year.  Looking for more male friends with similar interests in the area, as well as hoping to boost my readership, I searched for “Tao Te Ching Cleveland” on MySpace and Smith’s profile was the first to pop up.  Checking out his site, I was awed by his collage art, intrigued by his colorful (even chequered) history and brilliant photography, and especially fascinated by his daily blogs about his life and travels with his übertalented wife and partner in ArtCrime Lady K.  It took a little more exploring before I discovered his poetry – a rich mind mine, and (by design or not) a minefield to keep bullshit at bay.  Smith’s “work,” in all senses of the word, is consistently bold and original.  And though his poems can be quite playful, they are always powerfully profound.  Even his prose and “fotos” (he seems to prefer the more sensible Spanish spelling) speak (and reek of) pure poetry.  He also strikes me as one of the most honest, ethical men I know.

When Smith and Lady stayed in our home last year, my wife and I were impressed by how “down to earth” and real they seemed.  I remember the four of us communing over Geri’s chocolate fondue fountain, Smith’s ability to communicate wordlessly with our dogs (who loved him), and then my waking up the next morning to make coffee and discovering Smith and Lady at our dining room table brewing poetic potions of their own out of el sol de mañana (the morning sun).  I say it in Spanish not because they now live in Oaxaca, Mexico, but because mañana can mean “tomorrow,” too, and sol (sun) always reminds me of the English word “soul.”  Not just that morning at my house, but every day in their “real” dream lives, they make poetry out of morning sun-stuff, as well as the world’s night-dark flip side and the past, present, and “soul of tomorrow” both inside and out of each of us – often without even writing a word.   Their lives are poetry.

Here is one of my favorite Smith poems, snatched from his website (www.agentofchaos.com) with his permission:

Now Zen

It aint age.
It ain’t sex.
It ain’t race, religion, height,
    gender, color, class or learning.

It’s path, progress and position.
The road not not taken.
Be here now.
Hear now
    o eyes unseeing
    o ears unearned.

We’re all perfect potential
    cept maybe republicans, lawyers,
    the true organized crime called police
    the true whores called priests.

You can walk on water IF water wants.
Just ask.
Walk willing.
There ain’t no dark night’s ungentle light.
Ain’t nothing outside but lies.
But even lie true ain’t for you.
Walk within.
Don’t need no god.
No catholic pimp pushing blood feast.
My lie’s mine.
Walk my own walk.
Fuck the talk.

Grasshoppers gone wrong become ants.
Bad ants cry uncle, cry wolf, cry baby.
Goats goad sacrifice to sun.
Ritual requires repetition, release.
Nothing stays river’s run
    but drought’s dry dirt
    (and river still runs).

Rub your ears together.
Start a fire.
Flesh alarm.
Let gone go.
Lock lip.


* * *
It’s interesting that I found Smith while looking for the Tao Te Ching, because in many ways he is now living the Tao – comfortable and confident flowing with the flux and talking life as it comes.  Perhaps this wasn’t always true with him.  But it seems so today.  Meeting him was instrumental in enabling me to speak openly about my prison past (as he has done about his own).  Getting to know him also played a key role in resurrecting my faith in poetry as more than just an art, much more than mere clever words on a page.  And that in turn led the muse I thought was dead and long gone back to me.  He may find this amusing, but I consider him a poetic father.

Hi, Daddy!

Smith not only writes great poetry (he wrote his first poem 44 years ago and has never stopped evolving artistically).  He lives poetry, makes his life poetry, makes poetry live, and inspires poetry in others.  He was recently honored by the editors of Cleveland Poetry Scenes: A Panorama and Anthology, who selected him as one of our eight most important poets born in the 1940s and included several of his finest poems.  Other contributors to the volume remark throughout about Smith’s unique influence and achievements (including publishing ArtCrimes for twenty years and creating www.agentofchaos.com, recently very nicely remodeled by Lady K, which might be the largest art/poetry website in the world.

Cleveland 2004 – foto by Steven B. Smith
I like to call this image If You Meet a Cracked Buddha on the Crosswalk

I just finished reading Cleveland Poetry Scenes and believe it is a must-read for all poets and poetry lovers.  Forget the Browns, Indians, LeBron James, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Cleveland is one of the best places in the world for Poetry.  Smith and Lady K are two of the many great reasons why.

For more, please check out these links:

www.agentofchaos.com – thousands of pages of some of the best art and poetry you’ll find online

www.walkingthinice.com – a blog following the always-interesting adventures of Smith and Lady

http://www.deepcleveland.com/artcrimes.html – to order back issues of Smith’s ArtCrimes

http://www.myspace.com/smithcrimes – Steven B. Smith on MySpace

http://www.myspace.com/shadygravylady – Lady K on MySpace

And click here to order Cleveland Poetry Scenes from my Amazon book store.

Good news:  Smith and Lady will be back in Cleveland for a week or two this month, which means you’ll have a good chance of catching them reading their poetry live.  We’ll keep you posted as to where and when that might happen.  And I will certainly be there and blog about it when it does.