William Jay Smith, who wrote poetry with classical precision and childlike whimsy and who was a globe-trotting poetry consultant to the Library of Congress for two years, died Aug. 18 at a hospital in Pittsfield, Mass. He was 97.
He did not like the term “poet laureate,” (…) because he thought it implied a quasi-official responsibility to be a national cheerleader. He also detested literary theory, which he said contributed to “the ruination of English departments,” and he sometimes clashed with other leading poets and critics.
In one controversial poem, “The Tall Poets: A Bicentiennial Mediation, July 4, 1976,” Mr. Smith took direct aim at poetic self-indulgence — with a thinly veiled reference to John Ashbery, in particlar:
I am bored with those Tall Poets,
those first and second-generation baby Bunyans,
sick of their creatively written writing,
their admired ash-buried academic anorexia …
I’m weary of having to dive into their driven dreck that hits the fan
weekly in every puffed and pompous periodical …
I long for the pure poem,
the passionate statement,
the simple declarative sentence …
/ Matt Schudel, Washington Post August 22