PRINT December 1979


*THIS IS THE LONGEST AND MOST complex of a large group of poetic passages left behind by David Smith, this one probably dating, according to Paul Cummings, from the mid-1950s. Many of these writings consist of listlike catalogues of concrete things that, in Smith’s workbooks, were often accompanied by an appropriate sketch for each item. Then again, such things as Smith itemizes can be found embodied in his sculptures. Smith studied poetry at George Washington University, and his writing of this sort extends the tradition of Whitman’s cataloguing of images. More immediately, the approach compares with poetry of the Beat generation (Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg) and, then in the world of Pop art, with the writings published by Claes Oldenburg in his album Store Days; Documents from The Store, 1961, and Ray Gun Theater, 1962 (1967).


The Question—
what are your influences—

Where do you get it
from the history of art and the myth of man
from the half of a part chewed chicken rib cage
and out of a fried salted mackerel spine
the structure of August hatched moths that come off
the mountains
the color of moths that blind in my arc
out of Beethoven’s E flat major opus 31 and
the statement about it he made
from brush marks on a wall
the personages that grain pine boards
the grease spots on paper
the creatures in foliage
the statements of nature—the underlying structure
which forms the object, its whole or its parts—
related by associations not yet befouled by commerce
the nature of accident made by man as they fall in unity
as if directed by genes and generations
From Lahey’s thrust, from Sloan’s cones and cubes
from Matulka’s cubist concept and aggressive inquiry
from Grahams eratic finesse from Davis conversations
over ale at McSorleys or Stewart’s over coffee, his
caustic disdain for the stuffed shirts in our professional
world, his enthusiasm for pine top Smith
From all my friends and contemporaries
Directives come from the way swallows dart
The way trees fall
the shape of rocks
the color of a dry doe in brown
the way bark grows on basswood sprouts
the head of a turtle—the vertabrae
the memory of the soup it made
and the 52 ping pong balls it never laid
the roll of the mountains after the days work
on the walk from the shop to my house
the way stars track
from bugs and butterflies under magnification
dividing to find the common denominators
the antennae, body movement to shape, the joints of
the legs and feet squared by the memory of fish and the behavior of man
the ecstacy of a piano sonata and black coffee
at midnight—the pieces finished outside the shop,
the piece underway—the piece finished conceptually
the odds on the wall, the patterns in the rafters
the stack of materials, the tools to form it and the work
to come
the memory of 1 Atlantic Avenue, the odds on its walls,
the ships ventilators that hung from the rafters,
the rusty rows of forging tongs
the stacks of buffalo horn
the boxes of barrier reef pearl shell
the baskets of pistol handles in various stages of finish and polish
the rows of every revolver frame ever made, the clatter of
barge fuel pumps
, the backwater roll of an incoming ferry
the crush of Levy the barge oiler walking through the cinder
yard out the gate for coffee
from the way booms sling
from the ropes and pegs of tent tabernacles
and side shows at county fairs in Ohio
from the bare footed memory of unit relationships on
locomotives sidling thru Indiana,
from hopping freights, from putting them together and
working on their parts in Schenectady
From everything that happens to circles
and from the cultured forms of woman and the free growth
of mountain flowers.