National Poetry Month Day 10: “Contraband” by Bruce Smith ’68


That thing you sent didn’t open,

didn’t change my life as it should, didn’t complicate,

or play, although it made a hate

crime, a love note—both of those—a stolen

thing from the Congo passed through France

then shown to Picasso by Matisse at Stein’s apartment

a carving, a mask, a dance—a misrepresented

soul that became the thing—a trance

we lived in while we built the Great Wall,

The Chrysler Building, the Erie Canal—servants

to the civilization, dowsing, digging,

never stopping to drink.  God strangled

the details as we smuggled the cargoes

of our gifted lives, our lies, our singing.


(Click here to hear Bruce Smith read his poem “Contraband” on!)


Bruce Smith, a 1968 Bucknell graduate, has been named a finalist for a National Book Award for his most recent collection of poems, Devotions (University of Chicago Press, 2011). Smith is the author of five previous volumes of poetry, including The Other Lover (2000), which was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

A Discovery/The Nation Award winner, he has received a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Arts. In 2010 he received an award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

His work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, 2003 and 2004, The New Yorker, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Partisan Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry, The American Poetry Review and the 2009 Pushcart Prize anthology, and were included in the Best of the Small Presses anthology for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010. Essays and reviews of his have appeared in Harvard Review, Boston Review and Newsday.

Smith has been a co-editor of the Graham House Review and a contributing editor of Born Magazine. A professor of English at Syracuse University since 2002, he has taught at Tufts, Boston and Harvard universities, at Portland State and Lewis & Clark College, and at the University of Alabama.


One thought on “National Poetry Month Day 10: “Contraband” by Bruce Smith ’68

  1. I love the way this poetry series is introducing me to Bucknellian poets that I never knew! I really like the rhythm of this poem, and the distance that it travels in time and space. I think my favorite line is the last one.

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