Crystal Simone Smith

smith music

Running Music (Longleaf Press, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? What chapbooks have influenced your writing?

I own a number of chapbooks, all authored by friends. I have no favorites.

In particular, I should mention Which Lies Are Necessary? by Ann Humphreys. In 2005, I was new to poetry. Ann was a poet & close friend with her first chapbook publication. I’d never heard of a chapbook. Again, at the time I couldn’t appreciate the quality of the work, so I can’t say it influenced my writing, but it did compel me to write consistently.

What’s your chapbook about?

Running Music is my second chapbook, a juxtaposition of the heart— its range of work. It was during a series of difficult life stretches that poetry became a refuge for me, and running an escape. This collection is largely about mothers, but also endurance and overcoming.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

A year ago, Finishing Line Press published Route’s Home, a collection of poems I wrote about childhood summers spent in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  As a poet of memory, it was a necessary first collection with narratives dating back to the 1950s via my mother’s shared memories. I regret now not having the stamina to make it a full-length book. Ironically, the poems were written before I entered an MFA program. Most of the poems in Running Music were composed after I completed the program.

Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?

I did shop it around and I recommend any poet with a polished manuscript do so. Publication is, yes, affirming, but rejection can be incredibly motivating.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

A graphic designer by trade, I always assume some control over the look of my books, especially the covers. With Running Music, I ran across a watercolor painting of running shoes that a west coast artist posted on her blog. I thought: How perfect, they are exact replicas of my running shoes. I contacted her and she granted permission to use it in exchange for an autographed copy of the book.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

I’m pretty active in the local writing community, so I have several readings planned through summer 2015. I’ll also hold a book launch party at a locally owned wine store and send announcements to the literary organizations with which I’m affiliated.

What are you working on now?

For now I’m committed to writing haiku. After accepting a daily haiku challenge from a haiku master many months ago, I’ve been doggedly at it, hopeful I’ll place in a few competitions and possibly even publish a full-length collection.


Crystal Simone Smith is the author of Routes Home (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and Running Music (2014), Longleaf Press. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Callaloo, Nimrod, Barrow Street, and African American Review. She is an alumnus of the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop and the Yale Summer Writers Conference and lives in Durham NC, where she is currently the Managing Editor of Backbone Press.



Grief Song

—for A.W. (1983-2011)

You’re a fool for oxymorons: lovely funeral,
______good blues—and tempted by the reviewer’s notes:
“a crafty reconstruction of Motown sounds”,
______“poetry rung out in a balmy, alto voice”—

you burn an illegal copy because you need joy
______after your mother’s death and theft seems
easy in the face of grief. Grieving is to drown in odd phrases:
______dying is a part of life, you shouldn’t be: all alone.

You are left with what you know,
______music as company—the classics she obsessed,
handed down to you like the smoky eyes
______that render you the sexy-drugged look

like the singer sprawling the cover. You are a fool,
______she’d say, going back to black with a tattooed,
white girl beneath a ratty beehive. But it’s an escapade
______with nothing to lose—the Tammi Terrells

of the world have morphed into blond-weaved,
______track-beat, Versace fashionistas—
the odd phrase of commercial art you cannot support.
______So you cop what you prepare to toss

out the car window if disappointment meets
______your inklings. Instead, you sit transfixed in a space,
because finally, finally, you hear the beauty
______of the straightforward tongue—what it speaks:

how much deeper can I feel pain without
______the onset of death? This company—the relief
of horns and a brassy voice declaring: I’m struggling,
______weather-beaten. The odd practice of enjoying the blues.


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