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The Insurance Agent and the Real Estate Broker:
Introducing Edward Smith (1941-2003)

by Charles Potts

I met Edward Smith on the floor of the Magic Mountain, a house of philosophy named for Thomas Mann’s novel, and the first home of the Free University of Seattle. Edward enrolled in a class I taught called “Poetry-Language-Now” in 1966. We’d been friends for thirty-eight years when he died of complications from the flu the day after Christmas in 2003.    

Most of those nearly forty years we were on our separate ways. The last three years were especially precious as we revived our acquaintance. He put it this way: “God in the form of a friend, gave me my art back.” We talked whenever we weren’t busy over his 800 number at Shelter Insurance, about matters at the utter heart of poetry, often about Du Fu and Su Tung Pö, Stevens, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Dante, King Lear. When Edward came to Walla Walla to be one of the featured poets at the poetry party, he was carrying a computer printout of Two Noble Kinsmen, written half by Shakespeare, and fingered by Charles Olson in his essay on Quantity. We hadn’t seen each other for twenty-eight years.

I don’t know any poets who know more language than Edward did. He was trained to fluency in Vietnamese by the Army Language School in Monterey; he had a degree in Chinese from the University of Washington; he studied Japanese; he had dictionary knowledge of French and Latin; he knew the classical and country music canons; and he knew prosody and poetry in these languages.    

So why shouldn’t I listen to a poet born in China who was also a Christian minister for fifteen years, a man who rescued me and saved my life thirty-five years ago from a funny farm. We used to josh one another about the ordinary circumstances by which we made our various livings. Far from the academy, the market value of the revolution of the 60s had dropped precipitously; Edward wound up selling insurance while I became a real estate broker. In the old days he would drag me stoned to the U of Washington library and read me Mencius in Chinese.    

I published two books by Edward Smith through Litmus Inc. in the 70s; The Flutes of Gama (still in print) and Going. You can find new poems of Edward’s on-line at www.thetimegarden.com and www.thetemplebookstore.com under the poetry party banner. Not famous yet but durable and deserving to be. Edward also wrote a novel and incredibly credible criticism of Theodore Roethke, Sharon Doubiago, Michael Palmer, Billy Collins. We have video/audio of Edward reading at the WWPP03 and a CD of this reading plus one he gave at the Zig Zag Gallery and Pot Shop in Seattle in 1967. “For Ho Xuan Huong (1768-1839)” is his last poem.

For Ho Xuan Huong  (1768-1839)

this long breath for you if you were alive
& sitting right in my living room, your
words on fire, your tight language leaping
the gap between your sexual nature &
another time, nation, mountains, trails
across the mist, kiss me, across
your female, dark-lipped, longing, the trail
is one pass after another, one people
expanding southward, think of
the tunnels they dug and ran in
when the aggressor threatened
& you hold now my other nature, my
patriotic being, sauntering between temples
built in Hue during the reign of the
Gia-long emperor, I weave through
your magnificent words, your sorrows
drift across my head, clouds, rain
breaking down all the barriers imposed
by philosophy, by words themselves
& I embrace the wind itself in your smile
& there is no barrier not crushed by
our dual music

                                              Dec. 16, 2003


Read a letter about Charles Potts and Edward Smith from Denis Mair to Suzanne Lummis

Charles Potts operates The Temple Bookstore and Poetry School, which produces poetry readings such as the Walla Walla Poetry Party. New publishing projects include selected early poems from Blue Begonia Press in Yakima, Washington, and a critical edition of the long poem "Compostrella/Starfield" from Time Barn Books in Nashville, Tennessee, with an essay on the poem by Klyd Watkins.