Thomas Noel Smith,
"Dust" & Other Poems
(Outskirts Press, 2011)

Thomas Noel Smith's "Dust" is poetry that appears to be written in the Victorian era. In both style and subject, there's a lot of Tennyson here. Not to mention a bit of Manley Hopkins. Few are personal; most address, from an objective point of view, larger issues and ideas; the one sheet that accompanied the book describes them as poems about the human condition.

With the exception of a few poets like Browning, 19th-century poetry stated; it told us instead of showing us. Much of it was written in a general tone, describing abstract conditions.

Much of Smith's work carries on this tradition. Here, for example, is the opening stanza of "As Diverse People We Came."

As diverse people we came
from distant foreign homes
strangers to this savage land
an untamed wilderness
spreading endlessly

In the poem, when he moves toward the specific, the pronoun is always we; the poem remains generalized, and so a reader is left to concentrate on the message of the poem, rather than its reality. Since the poem celebrates the overly familiar, there's nothing to bite into. As Dorothy Parker once said, "There's no there there."

If your taste lean toward familiar statements about familiar things, then you might enjoy browsing through this collection. If however, you appreciate contemporary poetry, you won't find much for you here.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

26 March 2011

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