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The Killing Tree, forthcoming July 2016

The Killing Tree

J. D. Smith’s poems are full of wit and doughty faith. As he says in “Upon a Birth,” we enter this world without, as far as we can tell, having any say in the matter; and the nature of things and our own limitations thwart our attempts to achieve fullnesss of being. Yet he also movingly observes that we persist in seeking goodness, truth, and beauty—narrowing in the process “the distance from the real to the ideal.” The Killing Tree is a triumph of life and art.

-Timothy Steele

In his collection The Killing Tree, J. D. Smith deploys a vast array of poetic forms—including the kyrielle, sonnet, rondeau, rhymed couplets and quatrains, ghazal, ballade, triolet, monorhyme, villanelle, blank verse, and free verse—in investigations of personal crises and relationships, and musings on daily routines and failures of idealism, justice, and government. The poetic forms themselves exert their subtle pressure, condensing the carbon of experience to a gemlike polish that is by turns lyrical, musical, cynical, satiric, or moving. The wry humor of comparing a feeding frenzy at a koi pond to the trade show the speaker has just left ("Botanical Garden") or of presenting the flip side of Dana Gioia's "Pity the Beautiful" in a celebration of the ignored and undervalued ("Envy the Dutiful") contrasts with the restrained grief of a sonnet on the loss of a child ("Elegy") or a scathing portrait of scholars who smugly frame policy debates, but "step around the beggars stretched outside" ("Consultative"). From the personal to the political to the philosophical, there are poems here to suit a wide range of readers.

–Susan McLean

The poems in J.D. Smith's latest collection, The Killing Tree, exhibit an ear fine-tuned to the musicality inherent in a wide variety of received forms, including the sonnet, villanelle, ballade, rondeau, heroic couplet and triolet, as well as a keen eye for detail with which he depicts the many aspects of our common humanity.The exquisitely heart-rending sonnets, "Elegy" and "Drunkard Watched from an Upper Floor", the humorous and self-deprecating ballade, "The Cool of '94", the incisive "Fragment from Zeno" and the trenchant "Missing a Vigil" are but a few examples of Smith's excellent delineations of the broad themes of life, death, despair, time and social injustice. "At a Bistro", a tour de force of wit and craftsmanship, itself is worth the price of admission. Part 3, where the title poem appears, is Smith's scathing indictment of the status quo ("Century of Ideas"), and, in a series of pieces culminating in "Along the Potomac", he excoriates the rampant political corruption of Washington, D.C. The repeated item on Smith's prologue poem, "Agenda" is his desire "To be a string played by the wind", that is, to act as an Aeolian harp, essentially acting as an instrument capturing the chaos of the wind's vortices and translating them into song. The Killing Tree has done just that.

-Catherine Chandler

Labor Day at Venice Beach

Smith limns scenes from youth and anticipated age with the droll pithiness of a Philip Larkin and the compression of a haiku master. The overall effect is uncanny: although tonally varied, the poems seem postcards from a life carefully introspected and guardedly lived. Indeed, the Horacian piquancy of Smith's stance--and his representation of seemingly autobiographical circumstances as archetypal, rather than indecipherably individual--adds heft to this, his third collection.
Heather Treseler, American Book Review

Divided into four sections exploring mortality, the amorality of nature, the role of citizens in country and world, and the consequences of travel in that world, the poems are "straight and real."
Carmen Germain, Verse Wisconsin

Settling for Beauty

Smith's poems keep the reader in this temporal world where we are asking difficult things of our lives and the lives of others, and that process becomes part and parcel of his work.
Ann E. Michaels,

From the Author
This book attempts to present a sensibility all-too-rarely found in the blockbuster-driven "cultural industries" of film, television and mass-market fiction. These poems try to address the way individuals face the limits of their own capabilities and the larger limits of historical circumstance; they also look for an awareness of imperfection and injustice that does not turn to bitterness, fanaticism or fatalism.

The Best Mariachi in the World

Named one of the best children's books of 2008 by Criticas, the one-stop source for reviews of new adult and children's titles for Spanish-language titles. Everyone in Gustavo's family is in a mariachi band . . . Everyone except Gustavo, that is. They all play violines, trompetas and guitarrones. They all make wonderful music in restaurants and at wedding parties. Gustavo would love to join the band, but he can't play any of the instruments. What's a wannabe mariachi to do? Follow Gustavo as he finds his place in the family mariachi band. The book is currently available in English, Spanish and bilingual editions. Beautifully illustrated with bright, vibrant colors, this is a charming tale about finding one's own talent. Gustavo was born to a family of Mariachis, but can't be part of the family band because he can't play any instruments. That is, until the town discovers that he has a great singing voice.

An Immodest Proposal

This article suggests, with tongue partly in cheek, how the promotion of erectile dysfunction medications might reduce hunting and fishing of species reputed to be aphrodisiacs.