Welcome to our new column, Forgotten Writers. We have invited writers to drop in and tell us about writers who they believe are underappreciated or forgotten. Our first visitors for this series are David Baker and Allison Benis White, and future guests will include Memorious contributors Sean Singer and David Rivard.
David Baker on Mbembe Milton Smith:
In a country and at a time when a very respectable sales figure for a poet, for a year, might be 2000 or 3000 copies of a book, it feels like nearly everyone is underappreciated or forgotten. And yet, a few poets are dramatically over-appreciated, too. Shh, let’s not name names here. Poetry should not be a fashion-statement or a competition. Every poet thinks he or she is underappreciated. Every poet, now, has his or her cadre or clique and everyone else be damned.
I wish more people were reading Roethke, and James Wright, and Edna Millay. Or how about poems, not poets? Today my list includes Warren’s “Audubon,” Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s beautiful “Friendship after Love,” and Milosz’s “After Paradise.”
Today I nominate a poet from Kansas City for your list. Tomorrow I would probably name someone else. But today: Milton Smith. Or Mbembe, as he adopted in his adulthood, or Mbembe Milton Smith. I knew him in the mid-70s, when I was in college at nearby Central Missouri State University. I was maybe 21, he was maybe 30. Articulate, driven, Black, passionate, poetic, handsome, and as they say of poets sometimes, angry. He died by suicide in 1984, and left behind four books and a couple of manuscripts. BKMK Press did publish his Selected Poems in 1986. Here are opening lines of his “Suffer the Children,” filtering Whitman and the street:
you will find my fragments on every street corner
where a neon sign blinks the surreal image
of scotches and sex larger than sunrise.
in every marijuana dream you will find drugged pieces
of me dribbling off the end of a four-four tune
into the void.
Poetry is patient. People are impatient. The point is not developing or finding a wide readership; the point is writing for a long one.
Allison Benis White on Killarney Clary:
I’ve heard it argued that one measure of the potency of literature is that its strangeness forces the reader to change her world to incorporate it, or to leave her world to join the one the writer has created. Killarney Clary’s book of prose poems, Who Whispered Near Me, has both effects on me. It is such odd, intimate work: “we are sincere and self-conscious, like nervous laughter.” I regularly bring up her name, and this book in particular, in conversations with other writers, and I’m surprised at how many people aren’t familiar with her poems. But then again there are so many amazing writers on the periphery, and we must rely on each other to say here, look.