Dave Smith

Dave Smith (1942– )

Dave Smith is a poet, editor, educator, and one of the foremost writers in contemporary southern poetry. Twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, Smith has won two National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowships (1976, 1981), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1981), the Virginia Poetry Prize (1988), and a Pushcart Prize (1997). MORE...


David Jeddie Smith was born in Portsmouth, in Virginia's Tidewater region, on December 19, 1942. The first in his family to earn a college degree, he received a BA from the University of Virginia (1965), an MA from Southern Illinois University (1969), and a PhD from Ohio University (1976). From 1969 until 1972, between earning his master's and doctoral degrees, he served a tour of active duty in the U.S. Air Force, achieving the rank of staff sergeant. After teaching English literature and creative writing at the University of Utah, the State University of New York at Binghamton, the University of Florida, and Virginia Commonwealth University, Smith served as a coeditor of The Southern Review. He taught at Louisiana State University for twelve years before relocating to Johns Hopkins University in 2002, where he is the Elliot Coleman Professor of Poetry. In 1996, Smith was inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He married Deloras Weaver in 1966, and they have three children.

While Smith has written both fiction and criticism, his most significant work is poetry. Although a body of verse as wide-ranging as his defies classification, certain characteristics appear throughout his work. First, his poems often shift dynamically between realism and imaginative flights. Second, his work shows an exceptional dramatic sensibility. Third, he displays an abiding nostalgia for the South, especially his Virginia youth, but is also responsive to contemporary social tensions, particularly racial conflict. Finally, he experiments endlessly with various forms and meters, and is notably adept at longer lines that carry lively rhythmic force without being awkward.

Although the landscape of the Tidewater area is the one most often visited in his poetry, geographical settings and physical landscapes create an important sense of place throughout his work. Some of his recurring themes are nature (especially swamps and seascapes), religion, and family. His verse embodies a strong narrative pull, and he often integrates autobiographical elements, by including family members as characters and by referring to their working-class history (his grandfather was a foreman and his uncle an engineer for the B&O Railroad).

Even though he often demonstrates nostalgia for his Virginia roots, Smith does not long to repeat the past or to embrace the so-called Lost Cause, a tendency of many white southerners after the American Civil War (1861–1865) to rationalize their defeat and to continue to believe that their cause was noble and their leaders were chivalrous heroes. Instead, Smith presents a brilliant reassessment of the war in Gray Soldiers (1983). "Photograph of a Confederate Soldier Standing on Rocks in the James River at Richmond" counteracts glory-filled visions of the Confederate war hero, while "Caravati's Salvage: Richmond" describes how the weighty history of the Civil War has disintegrated into fragments for cheap resale in a Richmond salvage shop.

Major Works


  • Bull Island (1970)
  • Mean Rufus Throw Down (1973)
  • The Fisherman's Whore (1974)
  • Drunks (1974)
  • Cumberland Station (1976)
  • In Dark, Sudden with Light (1977)
  • Goshawk, Antelope (1979)
  • Homage to Edgar Allan Poe (1981)
  • Apparitions: Poems (by John Ashbery, Galway Kinnell, W. S. Merwin, L. M. Rosenberg, and Dave Smith, 1981)
  • Blue Spruce (1981)
  • Dream Flights (1981)
  • In the House of the Judge (1983)
  • Gray Soldiers (1983)
  • The Roundhouse Voices: Selected and New Poems (1985)
  • Three Poems (1988)
  • Cuba Night (1990)
  • Night Pleasures: New and Selected Poems (1992)
  • Fate's Kite: Poems, 1991–1995 (1995)
  • Tremble (1996)
  • Floating on Solitude: Three Volumes of Poetry (1996)
  • The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000 (2000)
  • Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems, 1992–2004 (2005)

    Novels and Stories

  • Onliness (1981)
  • Southern Delights (1984)

    Essays and Nonfiction

  • Local Assays: On Contemporary American Poetry (1985)
  • Hunting Men: Reflections on a Life in Poetry (2006)


  • The Pure Clear Word: Essays on the Poetry of James Wright (1982)
  • The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets (with David Bottoms, 1985)
  • New Virginia Review 4 (1986)
  • New Virginia Review 8 (1991)
  • The Essential Poe (1991)

Time Line

  • December 19, 1942 - Dave Smith is born.
  • 1965 - Dave Smith graduates from the University of Virginia with a bachelor's degree.
  • 1976 - Dave Smith wins a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship.
  • 1981 - Dave Smith is awarded with the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship for the second time.
  • 1981 - Dave Smith receives a Guggenheim Fellowship.
  • 1988 - Dave Smith is awarded the Virginia Poetry Prize.
  • 1996 - Dave Smith is inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
  • 1997 - Dave Smith is awarded a Pushcart Prize.
  • 2002 - Dave Smith relocates from LSU to Johns Hopkins University, where he serves as the Elliot Coleman Professor of Poetry.
Further Reading
DeMott, Robert. "Dave Smith." In American Poets Since World War II, edited by Donald J. Greiner, 253–262. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1980.
Johnson, Mark. "The Dangerous Poems of Dave Smith." Southern Literary Journal 38:1 (2005, Fall): 91–114.
Smith, Dave. "Dave Smith." By Ernest Suarez, with T. W. Stanford III and Amy Verner.Southbound: Interviews with Southern Poets, (1999): 20–38.
Vendler, Helen. "Catching a Pig on the Farm." Review of The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems 1970–2000 by Dave Smith. New York Times Review of Books 48:4 (March 8, 2001): 44–46.
Weigl, Bruce, ed. The Giver of Morning: On the Poetry of Dave Smith. Birmingham, Alabama: Thunder City Press, 1982.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Turner, D. C. Dave Smith (1942– ). (2014, January 1). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Smith_Dave_1942-.

  • MLA Citation:

    Turner, Daniel Cross. "Dave Smith (1942– )." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: June 24, 2008 | Last modified: January 1, 2014

Contributed by Daniel Cross Turner, an assistant professor of American literature at Siena College, Loudonville, New York.