Clint Smith’s Releases New Poetry Collection, Above Ground

April 10, 2023

This past Monday, April 3rd, Clint Smith read from his newly released collection of poetry Above Ground to an audience packed inside the Madison Central Library Community Room. The event, which was part of the Wisconsin Book Festival, also included an introduction and conversation with UW-Madison Assistant Professor of English Nate Marshall, a longtime friend and colleague of Smith’s.

Audience members received a free copy of the collection ahead of the reading, which Smith remarked helped the event feel more like a poetry “read-along” rather than a formal book talk. In Above Ground, Smith ruminates on his experience of fatherhood, current environmental and political crises, and his relationship to the complex and multiple truths that inform the simultaneous joys and heartaches of being a parent. Through the talk’s “read-along,” Smith himself oscillated between these different emotional registers by reading a selection of poems that ranged in content, form, and levity.

Photo of the cover of Smith’s Above Ground. From the Wisconsin Book Festival website.

In the conversation he facilitated after the reading, Professor Nate Marshall asked about Smith’s own models of fatherhood that inspired him while producing the collection, and how he understands himself as being both writer and father. Smith’s response echoed many of the sentiments he also shared during this past fall’s Go Big Read Keynote, where he discussed how he views writing as an act that holds him accountable for his own presence, forcing himself to sit still and hold onto the granularity and specificity of a moment in time. He discussed how he originally conceived of How the Word is Passed as a collection of poems rather than a series of essays, each centered on a different national monument. “Poetry,” Smith said, “is the act of paying attention.” However, Smith said that while poetry suited the ruminations in Above Ground, How the Word is Passed necessitated greater space, and, critically, a greater “pallet of voices” to properly render the multiplicity and simultaneity of America’s past.

As this year’s Go Big Read selection, How the Word is Passed has also inspired wide-ranging conversations across campus, reflecting the diverse voices that Smith used to inform the text itself. Uniting faculty, staff, students, and the community in shared conversation, Smith’s work encourages readers to sit still and be accountable for their own presence and multiple truths. Be it in the narrative nonfiction form of this year’s Go Big Read book or the poetic form of Above Ground, Smith asks his audience to “read-along” and pay attention.

By: Elise Kerns
Go Big Read Graduate Assistant