I’m so happy to bring you this conversation with Kentucky’s Poet Laureate, Frederick Smock, recorded live at the Writers’ Block Festival in Louisville last month. It was a Saturday morning at the cavernous Tim Faulkner Gallery, in front of an audience of writers clutching coffee and donuts. Our conversation was the kickoff event of the daylong festival, and I hope we were able to set the tone for a productive and creative day. Smock is also a professor at Bellarmine University, and he’s written several volumes of poetry and essays.
On a habit he developed as a child, walking down the long driveway at home:
“Whenever one of us would walk down to get the mail, or for whatever reason, we always kept our eyes down. We always looked, as we walked, for fossils — and we would often find them. So I think it began a habit early on of noticing things, of being awake and alert, keeping your eyes open, and the same was true whenever we would walk freshly plowed fields. You keep your eyes down, so that you find arrowheads and such like.”
On children’s natural sense of play and poetry:
“My son was in the yard, maybe five or six years old, stabbing things with a stick — bushes, not the dog — and I make this kind of dumb father comment, ‘That looks like a cool sword.’ Simile, we know it’s a stick, you’re pretending it’s a sword. My son stopped what he was doing and looked at me with his gray-green eyes and said, ‘It is a sword.’ Metaphor. I mean, in his hands, that was the Excalibur he was wielding, not a stick he was pretending was a sword.”
Thinking about learning to ice skate as a child, and what he took from that:
“My mind ran to the idea of rhythm. The Brooklyn poet Marianne Moore once said, among many other things, ‘The rhythm is the person.’ And I began to think about that in a different way now, with my writing students. The stereotype is for the student to find their voice. I wonder if it might not be better to ask them to find their rhythm.”