Critical Praise

A Plausible Light is the last book of a strong and distinguished talent. Paul Smyth had an easy mastery of verse forms, a vivid narrative gift, a good acquaintance with fact and natural process, and a rare capacity for confronting what is painful in life. He had, for instance, a Frostian power to  acknowledge fear-- an emotion which he finds even in the sound of a  hummingbird's wings. Whatever is strikingly said is to some extent  disarmed, and for all its darkness Smyth's poetry has high morale. Of the many poems one might single out, it is "Erik Satie: 'Trois  Gymnopedies'" which seems to me the gem of this selection; as an  evocation both of music and of sad experience, it is a triumph of articulateness.

—Richard Wilbur, author of Opposites, More Opposites, and a Few Differences

Smyth's formal poems, many of them sonnets, are exquistely crafted and satisfyingly sensuous. The more discursive, autobiographical poems are heartbreaking. And Coda, the final section, deserves close study; it is both moving and gratifying.

—Maxine Kumin, author of Jack and Other New Poems

I have known Paul Smyth's poems for thirty years. They have always filled my mind "With roses, with the hush of a million crisp petals," to use his own words. His poetry is, by turns, of the earth, of human frailty and beauty, and of the Empyrean. It is also accessible—the sort of poetry that folks who think they don't like poetry will.

—Barry Moser, Illustrator

Paul Smyth's the kind of poet who can sweep the reader along, regardless of his previous experience.... Very impressive...for both the range and interest of [his] subject matter and for [his] technical brilliance. Poems of such strength, hard-edged clarity, and power to refract color immediately seize attention and leave images not easily forgotten. Smyth uses form to work his will....As a recurrent theme, the quest for light, identity and freedom from pain, cuts with a special poignancy in Smyth's poetry...Smyth's twelve-poem sequence, "Of His Affliction" is a stunning performance.This is one of those exceptional works which permanently alter one's sensibility; it keeps coming back to haunt the reader....Smyth provides respite from emotionally draining experience in several fine pastoral and elegiac poems, particularly about the sea, evocative lines which gently insinuate meanings for man's relation to nature. Others are lyrical, comic, philosophical....Paul Smyth employs elegant forms to transmit an affecting personal voice.

—Joseph Parisi, Poetry

Smyth... has dedicated himself to making poems which are full realizations in thought, rhythm, imagery, development, feeling.The craft of the poems is highly accomplished, existing not for display but to compound and subtilize feeling and thought....These poems are splendidly unfraudulent, no slight compliment....The central image in "The Cry", a hay rake sunk in mud, be-comes one of the grandest images since Shakespeare of the wastes of time. The poem is, at least in my present judgment and awe, one of the best poems of our century. 

—Paul Ramsey, Sewanee Review

Paul Smyth began his writing career at a time inhospitable to formalist poetry.  Determined enough to persevere, he achieved a mastery of traditional verse techniques that few of his generation could match.  This book...should be welcomed by readers who appreciate finely managed meters; but they will find here as well a strong gift for narrative, much clear-eyed description, and some uncomfortably probing thoughts. Smyth's poems are a reminder that elegance of style and form may coexist with powerful, even harrowing feelings.  

—Robert B. Shaw, author of Solving for X

"There is a great deal to admire [in 'A Plausible Light'], little to condemn, and nothing to gainsay.  It is a hard won volume from what I take to have been an often unhappy life... I am brightly impressed by the way [Smyth] approaches allegory in poems like 'The Greenfield', 'A Fear', and 'Cover', but gracefully steps away, so that these poems retain fine energy upon rereading and are not dead exercises at second glance, as hard-and-fast allegories sometimes are.  Of course, in 'The Cardinal Sins' he does undertake allegory, almost in medieval fashion, but this poem is a wry jeu d'esprit.

It is interesting how often he takes transience as his theme and delivers with true delicacy the images of things passing, or soon to pass, away.  'The Girl at Dawn' is a lovely example, as is 'A little Night Music; 'Road Construction' is a darker, angrier take on the theme... Paul Smyth is a wonderful poet.  The evidence is there to be seen on almost every page.  I do hope that this sure-handed volume finds the readers it deserves-- and who deserve it.  This poet has taken darkness and made of it a constellation of purest lights."

—Fred Chappell, author of A Way of Happening: Observations of Contemporary Poetry

Smyth's poems, which most concern his search for grace, are meant to be cathartic and to offer a kind of reasurance. Smyth is, at all times, the poet of the afflicted and forgotten. He is a witness to injustice and chronicler of suffering, but is always drawn to the light and, beyond that, to the healing power of self-expression. He is perhaps closest to Dylan Thomas, inthat respect, of the poets of his time.

—John A. Murray, The Bloomsbury Review

I've loved reading A Plausible Light in the scattered little openings of this new semester.  Paul Smyth is entirely new to me, but he's clearly a master...His verse is strong, with regular meter and conversational rhythms intertwining. I love his natural imagery, too.

Among my favorite poems here are "Day Moon," "Erik Satie," and "Cover."  They are representative of the attribute of his writing I find most nourishing of all--an ability to enter quietly into a subject and just hang there in reflective suspension.

—John Elder, author of Reading the Mountains of Home

A Plausible Light
By Paul Smyth


El León;
1st ed.; (January, 2008)

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About Paul Smyth

The poems of Paul Smyth have appeared in magazines and journals including The Atlantic Monthly and Poetry (which awarded him the Dillon Memorial Prize). His first collection, Conversions, published in 1974 by the University of Georgia Press, was followed by two books of poems illustrated by artist Barry Moser and a collection of epigrams. Paul Smyth died in late 2006, just after completing last corrections on the manuscript for A Plausible Light.

Paul Smyth