Gulf is one part ode and one part elegy to Smith’s Louisiana. It is a book that, all at once, questions, praises, and eulegizes its muse. Smith’s poetry works to elevate people, places, and things that are often looked over as unpoetic. Trailers, pickups, catfish, menial labor thread through Gulf. But ultimately, the book revolves around family and home. It moves back and forth between innocence and experience, the idyllic and tragic. In Gulf, the past shapes the poet, yet the poet, through so much that has been lost, has little else to access a past other than memory. Ultimately, Gulf becomes a reckoning with memory. These poems are the work of a poet leaving and losing his home, his family, his way of life. But they are not merely past-centric. Loss is a centrifugal force, an inciting incident that leads to the question,what is on the other side? What is left of a state that every year falls farther into the Gulf of Mexico? What is left when the poet moves three thousand miles away? What is it like to come home? Can the poet come home? What remains when the poet leaves? What is he able to bring with him? Though Smith’s relationship to his home is not simple, his first urge is to praise; however, when home is a trailer on wheels in a state that continues to fall down farther into water, Gulf is a book of poems unable to escape the elegiac.
CODY SMITH is the 2018 Mississippi Review Prize winner in poetry. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Mississippi Review, The Raleigh Review, McNeese Review, among others. He is a creative writing P.h.D. student at Florida State University. He is the founding editor of The Swamp and the author of the chapbook Delta Summers (Yellow Flag Press).
"The poems in Gulf are rich with the humid embrace of the South Louisiana swamps, the joy of family and the sorrow of loss. These are poems that celebrate working people, men who cut down trees and sometimes drink too much and women who can make cornbread and rock a child to sleep. Hurricanes roll in from the gulf and heat lightning blazes in the sky. Gulf is filled with the blues, the rumble that comes from human hearts. Cody Smith is a poet of the earth and a brother of John Keats with a blues guitar. A stunning debut collection." —Barbara Hamby
"I read dozens of poetry books every year, and rarely have I experienced the kind of marrow-deep emotional attachment to new poems that I feel for Cody Smith’s Gulf. These poems are filled with what the English poet David Jones calls 'the actually known and loved,' and by the end of the collection I came to know and love the ailing grandfather, an outlaw-Papaw singing Merle Haggard songs and teaching a boy to work on a tractor. I know and love the guns and the tools Smith’s poems introduce, the mud of the ponds and the muck in the pirogues, and even the storms that threaten pretty much every day along the Gulf. The elegiac genius of Larry Levis presides over these poems, and other poets like Yusef Komunyakaa, Philip Levine, and Claudia Emerson offer some context, yet the whole is Cody Smith alone: singular experience, singular unforgettable voice." —Jesse Graves, author of Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine and Basin Ghosts
"I know of no young American poet currently evoking a more physically precise, companionable, emotionally resonant personal history of place than Cody Smith. In Gulf, his Louisiana and his generation have their answer to Frost’s North of Boston and Brooks’ A Street in Bronzeville. Smith’s gorgeous sentences reel out—often for long, winding stretches—with rhapsodic affection, wonder, and grief like rural backroads heading home. Or is it away from home? It’s both, of course, say these poems. These poems are so convincing, so eloquently, unpretentiously, lovingly brilliant in their details, and so true in their singing, they mourn their maker’s world even as they resurrect and hold that world within him. And within us." —Jonathan Johnson