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Songs for Two Voices

Part ancient Greek chorus, part Southern Baptist revival, Songs for Two Voices is an explosive showcase for Bruce Smith’s jazz-like variations on sonnets and couplets, offering twenty-five duets: poems of call and response, song and countersong. In poems that groove and break, shimmy and dance, Smith filters his Miles Davis-like riffs through a post-World War II American sensibility to deliver verse without platitudes.

As Smith’s speakers wander through the detritus of American materialism-encountering jazz, football, drag, class war, Reaganomics, and Vietnam-the poems dramatize the contradictions and peculiarities of growing up male in Cold War America, both sensing promise and suffering disillusion.

Each poem here speaks in two voices: one that attacks and one that cowers, one voice that leads while the other follows. But Smith’s subjects are unencumbered by form, and their voices blossom in duet: the idealized lover is also a betrayer, the man is also a girl. These binaries of statement and contradiction give birth to a third voice in the unrealized possibilities of the two.

A mesmerizing follow-up to 2000’s The Other Lover, Smith’s Songs for Two Voices is carnal yet fiercely intellectual, laid out with the self-confidence of a poet who can invoke Mozart and Coltrane, Anna Akhmatova and John Wayne, Teddy Roosevelt and Augustine in the same incendiary breath.

Read an excerpt.

72 pages | 6 1/8 x 8 1/2 | © 2005

Phoenix Poets



"Bruce Smith is a tender master of music, and beautiful lines, and complex thoughts, and fascinating wild personal and cultural references."

Gerald Stern | Gerald Stern

"’Isn’t that I: the vexed, the contested life,’ opens one of Bruce Smith’s startling songs. These split lyrics propose a new, capacious kind of poetic form, in which voice vexes and contests voice--not in parallel lines, not in argument, but in nearly-touching separate arcs that create a new-century version of counterpoint, one half of a song opening and digging beneath and beside the other. Smith’s paired monologues are ’willfull and fatal, enraged and tender.’"

Mark Doty | Mark Doty

“The lines—sometimes single but usually paired—fold into each other like the parts of an origami bird and, like the bird, resist being opened. After all, when you unfold the bird you’re left with a plain piece of paper. Meaning, elegance, pleasure—everything is in the folding.”

F. D. Reeve | The Antioch Review

Table of Contents

Song of the Least Thing
Song of the Pronouns
Song of the Mother in the Snow
Song of Sun Ra
Song of Loss in the Form of a Cock Ring
Song with Alabama in Drag
Song with a Child’s Pacifier in It
Song with Trucks in the Distance
Song of the Afterlife
Song of the Bad Infinite
Baby Needs a New Pair of Shoes
Song of the Suffering of the Pencil
Song for My Daughter
Song after the Wedding after the War
Song of the Ransom of the Dark
Song of the Little Zion Baptist Church
Song with Cement
Song with Spanish Shoes
Reverse Cowgirl
Strong Female Lead
Double Portrait
Song Disowned
How I Came to Believe in the Soul
Song of the Soul as Miles Davis

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