Almanac is a collection of lyrical and narrative poems that celebrate, and mourn the passing of, the world of the small family farm. But while the poems are all involved in some way with the rural Midwest, particularly with the people and land of the northwestern Illinois dairy farm where Austin Smith was born and raised, they are anything but merely regional. As the poems reflect on farm life, they open out to speak about childhood and death, the loss of tradition, the destruction of the natural world, and the severing of connections between people and the land.
This collection also reflects on a long poetic apprenticeship. Smith's father is a poet himself, and Almanac is in part a meditation about the responsibility of the poet, especially the young poet, when it falls to him to speak for what is vanishing. To quote another Illinois poet, Thomas James, Smith has attempted in this book to write poems "clear as the glass of wine / on [his] father's table every Christmas Eve." By turns exhilarating and disquieting, this is a remarkable debut from a distinctive new voice in American poetry. ______
From Almanac: THE MUMMY IN THE FREEPORT ART MUSEUM
Austin Smith ?
Amongst the masterpieces of the small-town Picassos and Van Goghs and photographs of the rural poor and busts of dead Greeks or the molds of busts donated by the Art Institute of Chicago to this dying town's little museum, there was a mummy, a real mummy, laid out in a dim-lit room by himself. I used to go to the museum just to visit him, a pharaoh who, expecting an afterlife of beautiful virgins and infinite food and all the riches and jewels he'd enjoyed in earthly life, must have wondered how the hell he'd ended up in Freeport, Illinois. And I used to go alone into that room and stand beside his sarcophagus and say, "My friend, I've asked myself the same thing."
Austin Smith was born in the rural Midwest. Most recently, he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University.
[A] lucid debut. . . . [S]elf-contained, compact stories [that] will stick in the mind for a while.
Smith's close familiarity with the everyday tragedies of our human existence is recorded in diction that is readily accessible to the average reader, but which has a depth that is capable of resounding through the hearts and souls of his audience, facilitating their response, even if they come from an essentially nonpoetic background. . . . Smith's work is well worth investing in, so do consider acquiring yourself a copy--he is clearly a modern-day poet who deserves your attention.---Lois Henderson, Bookpleasures.com
Smith's farm disasters make memorable reading if you care about poetry whether or not you care very much about farms.---Stephen Burt, Yale Review
Almanac by Austin Smith is a magical collection of lyrical poems which mark, and mourn, the passing of a way of life, of the small family farmer, in the rural Midwest. . . . It's a stunning first collection, chosen by Paul Muldoon for the reinvigorated Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets.---Keith Richmond, Tribune