NEA Literature Fellowships

J.D. Smith

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(2007 - Poetry)


To renovate the Parthenon,

To know beginnings without end,

To live by bread and bread alone.

To be a string played by the wind.


To raise a pearl outside the shell,

To grow a lemon with no rind,

To learn a useful trade by mail,

To be a string played by the wind.


To write a book-length palindrome,

To walk above the binding ground,

To be, not needing to become.

To be a string played by the wind.


To make my name and make it last,

To be redeemed, not having sinned, 

To mold, as clay, bronze long since cast.

To be a string played by the wind.

J.D. Smith's second collection of poems, Settling for Beauty, was published in 2005 and his first book, The Hypothetical Landscape, appeared in 1999. He is currently working on a third collection and writing essays. His children's book The Best Mariachi in the World will be published in 2008. Smith lives in Washington, DC, with his wife, Paula Van Lare, and their rescue dog, Roo.

Photo by Cheryl and Henry Perez

Author's Statement

For me, writing poems involves not so much proclamation as discovery, which in turn requires paying close attention to the world around me and listening to the possibilities of language. Working at a day job in an office outside of academia, however, requires paying attention to a great many other things.

This grant will allow me to spend time away from normal workplace obligations and let my mind wander in order to make new discoveries and write new poems. I also hope to complete and revise three ongoing projects. The first is a collection of formal poems, which I hope to publish as my third book. The second project is a collection of free verse; finishing this manuscript will require selecting, arranging, and revising a large number of poems. Finally, I hope to finish, revise and arrange a series of elegies I have been working on intermittently for more than ten years.

This Fellowship represents not only recognition, encouragement and financial support, but also a gift of quiet time and contemplative space. I am grateful for all of these aspects of receiving a grant from the NEA, and I hope that the Fellowship period will contribute significantly to my development as a poet.