Summoning Shades: Poems (PB)
Homer sends the hero of THE ODYSSEY to interview the dead in order to discover his destiny. The poems of R. T. Smith's SUMMONING SHADES pursue a similar mission, bringing to life in monologues and narratives figures from history and recollection, all rendered with careful attention to the idiom, customs, emotions, and ironies of their time and region. The earlier, nineteenth century figures include Mary Lincoln, Ambrose Bierce, Meriwether Lewis, Federal veterans posing as casualties for photographers, women in a Winslow Homer painting, and Audubon's assistant Joseph Mason. All are rescued from the shadows long enough to reveal their natures and often-gothic moments of crisis. The more modern figures include Lizzie Borden, Patsy Cline, and a gallery of characters summoned from small-town Southern sources--a roguish uncle, a dishonest investigator, a furious neighbor, a zealous and dangerous preacher. The collection concludes with the narrator attempting to speak with his dementia-stricken mother and, in her, seeing the mother of Odysseus, "an empty flitting shade" breaking her son's heart as her image eludes his attempts to embrace her. Working from historical sources, a broad empathy, and a mischievous imagination, Smith is able to find wry dark humor and a little succor in the presence of Civil War survivors, rogue musicians, and adventurers. Whether the subjects are major players in the story of America or squabbling Appalachian farmers, Smith keeps hoping their domain will be redeemed from violence. Even damaged Mary Lincoln, incarcerated in an asylum, has a magical blue bird to guide her toward escape and revenge, and dulcimers played in familial harmony make the mountains ring.