Collecting poets : William Jay Smith

copyright 2014
copyright 2014

Collecting poems & poets: William Jay Smith


I’ve known one person with a hat box of printed poems she collected from here & there.

Magazines, mainly, but also plucked from church bulletins, found on post cards, and in newspapers, back when newspapers printed poems. The collector was my amazing mother, a secretary at Rockefeller Center, Victory Garden newspaper editor in WW II, agricultural census taker, country weekly editor & when I came along, agricultural features writer. She snipped & secured her poems inside the covers of books or slipped them into her many Bibles. James Whitcomb Riley, Robert Frost & Edna St. Vincent Millay were among her finds.


copyright 2014
copyright 2014


I like to think there are still poem collectors busy at their hobby, such as my mother was. Saving and snipping, keeping & curating individual poems. Her collected poems frequently illuminated nature, patriotism & death. A published collection I read that came close to what she did was put together by Caroline Kennedy, about her famous mother’s favorite poems.

I think the fun thing to do in collecting individual poems from hither & yon, is to find a topic so unlikely, the chase lasts long & the reward of finding a poem on that topic is more thunderous.

I did not find any William Jay Smith poems when I sifted through her treasures after she died. Smith is one of those esteemed creatives who is better known today for a title he held, than for individual poems. His selection as the first poet laureate was such a brand new thing in 1968, his title was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress before the more poetical laureate was added.

Although most of his considerable work is for adults, Smith also collected children’s poems into books, such as LAUGHING TIME, as you would expect, it’s a trove of nonsense verse. I got lucky in a used bookshop & discovered a volume of a handful of his children’s poems, AROUND MY ROOM, delightfully illustrated by Erik Blegvad.

AROUND MY ROOM   William Jay Smith, with illustrator Erik Blegvad
William Jay Smith, with illustrator Erik Blegvad

Now, if you were collecting poems on a theme, how far would you have to go to find a poem on toasters? Or on dragons? And if a poem collector wants  a poem that incorporates a toasters & dragons, here is one not many people know, but they should.


The Toaster

A silver-scaled Dragon with jaws flaming read

Sits at my elbow and toasts my bread.

I hand him fat slices, and then, one by one,

He hands them back when he sees they are done.

_ from AROUND MY ROOM by William Jay Smith


I am indebted to the Wyndham Robertson Library at Hollins University for introducing me to Smith, one of the university’s esteemed past-faculty, via a curated wall display of his work.







If your are reading this via the lyrical group of online poet fans, Poetry Friday, it is my hope that your own poems are destined for such a publication. Write on, write on….



12 responses to “Collecting poets : William Jay Smith”

  1. I really like the poem collection book you featured. Would like to keep one myself, but nowadays I most poems I read are from the internet, and collected in a digital commonplace book. Some I copy by hand in my writer’s notebook.


  2. How well I remember my own mother standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes, a book of poetry open beside her. As she washed she memorized. Although, even then, her penchant for memorizing poetry was rare, most literate people possessed a poem or two that they could recite by heart. It was part of any respectable education.

    I recently read that among the first things stroke victims who lose the ability to speak regain are the poems they have memorized, and that the store of familiar phrases helps that return.

    What a good thing it is to have a deep acquaintance with that pared-down truth known as a poem.

    Great post Jan.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’d like to read more of Smith’s work — I think I posted one of his poems awhile ago and was happy to “discover” him after all this time. It’s wonderful that your mother collected poems. She should have been an anthologist!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a lovely idea! Yes, she would have made a mighty fine anthologist. And you are that, with your alphabet books Jama! (I shared your site with my writer-pal Adrian recently, who may be in touch.)


  4. Oh my, this is lovely.
    I remember as a young aspirant in the art of poetry I would stare at things and work at my imagery by writing poems about them. That poem about the toaster is wonderful, simple but it brings the object to life.
    I used to cut out poems growing up and paste them into my journal. Reading this made me think of doing that again.

    Liked by 1 person

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