Fred Smock, former Kentucky poet laureate and educator, has died


Ancient Kentucky Poet Laureateessayist and professor Bellarmine Frederick Smock died on July 17 of a heart problem. He was 68 years old.

Smock was Kentucky’s Poet Laureate from 2017-2018 and wanted to increase Kentuckians’ joy over poetry.

“In my teaching, I like to bring poetry to everyone. I imagine that will color some of what I do as Poet Laureate,” Smock told the Kentucky Arts Council during his installation as Poet Laureate.

Smock was born in Louisville and, with the exception of a summer teaching in Denmark, Smock lived his life as a proud Kentuckian. When his father moved the family to Fern Creek, Smock developed a love for nature.

“Those years were spent wandering the fields and the forest, mostly by myself,” Smock said in the Arts Council interview. “It was putting my imagination on this landscape and drawing from this experience. I can’t say that I run my mind that way. Inspiration comes to me, but these sources give me a lot to work on.

Smock wrote lyric poems, often by hand. He tried to keep them simple and claimed they had “no hidden meaning”.

Smock was a graduate of Seneca High School, earned his bachelor’s degree at Georgetown College and his Master of Arts at UdeL. According to Bellarmine’s obituary on Smock, he also did graduate work at the University of Arizona.

A writing student Sena Jeter Naslund, Smock impressed his teacher with his ability to choose “the brilliant word,” as Naslund was quoted in a 2017 profile of Smock. She also called Smock “a rare and special talent”.

Excerpt from Bellarmine’s obituary:

Beginning in 1984, Smock edited The American Voice, a literary journal funded by Sally Bingham. When the journal ceased publication in 1999 due to budgetary problems, he began his tenure at Bellarmine.

He specialized in modernism, 20th-century American poetry, and creative writing. He has also taught courses in Testimony Poetry, Peace Studies and British Poets of World War I and has taught on the KIIS Denmark Summer Programme. He served as an advisor for Ariel, Bellarmine’s literary magazine.

But he particularly enjoyed teaching English 200, a general education course required of all students, many of whom arrived less than enthusiastic about poetry. “I go there with missionary zeal,” he said.

Smock wrote five collections of poetry: garden courtyard (Larkspur Press, 1997), The good life (Larkspur Press, 2000), Guest House (Larkspur Press, 2003), The blue Hour (Larkspur Press, 2010) and The generous world (Broadstone Books, 2013). His prose books include Poetry and Compassion: Essays on Arts and Crafts (Wind Publications, 2006), Pax Intrantibus: A Meditation on the Poetry of Thomas Merton (Broadstone Books, 2007) and Craft-talk: on writing poetry (Wind Publications, 2008).

Her work has also been published in leading national and international journals, including The Iowa Review, The Hudson Review, The Southern Review, Poetry East, Ars-Interpres (Sweden), The Georgetown Review, and Olivier (Argentina). Garrison Keillor also read his poems during the broadcasts of A Prairie Housemate.

Smock received the 2005 Wilson Wyatt Faculty Award from Bellarmine University, the Al Smith Poetry Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, and the Jim Wayne Miller Poetry Prize from Western Kentucky University.

The obituary also shared one of Smock’s poems:

The Deer in Gethsemane

By Frederick Smock

There was a door,

old and green,

which was swaying in the wind.

No fence extends

on each side more,

if we ever had one.

The door was alone,

open on the meadow,

continuous land drift.

In my eyes, this door

organized the whole field

of vision. All

circled around the door,

or radiated from it,

or crossed it.

I surely could never think

to cross this field

and not passing.

There was a fatality

to this, and a promise that,

after crossing,

something remarkable

was sure to be revealed

on another side.

Bellarmine University will hold a memorial for Smock in the fall when students return. In accordance with Smock’s wishes, no further services will take place.

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