Poet and essayist Frederick Smock, professor of English and director of Creative Writing at Bellarmine University and a former Kentucky Poet Laureate, died on July 17, 2022, of a cardiac-related issue. He was 68 years old.
As poet laureate from 2017-18, he aimed to reintroduce Kentuckians to the joy of poetry.
“I’m going to go around to people and just read poetry, [asking them simply to] sit with it and take it in, because people are not reading poetry much anymore,” he said in a 2017 profile in Bellarmine Magazine. “And being an educator,
I want to talk about the joy we had as children and try to recapture some of that."
Smock was a native of Louisville. When he was 6, his father, a physician, moved the family from the city to a house in the country in Fern Creek. Much of Smock’s work reflects his time spent wandering fields and forests during those formative years.
“I am drawn to nature,” he said.
His lyrical poems, which he wrote in longhand, are often short and always straightforward, with “no hidden meanings,” he once said.
After graduating from Seneca High School, Smock earned his bachelor’s degree at Georgetown College and his Master of Arts at the University of Louisville. He also did post-graduate study at the University of Arizona.
At U of L, he studied creative writing with Sena Jeter Naslund, author of such noted works as Ahab’s Wife, Four Spirits and Adam & Eve.
“I knew from the beginning that Fred was a rare and special talent,” she said in the 2017 profile. “He doesn’t just want the right word. He wants what I would call the gleaming word—the word that has a startling and
meaningful appropriateness to it.”
Beginning in 1984, Smock edited The American Voice, a literary journal funded by Sallie Bingham. When the journal ceased publication due to budget issues, he began his tenure at Bellarmine in the 1997-98 academic year.
He specialized in Modernism, 20th Century American Poetry and Creative Writing. He also taught classes on Poetry of Witness, Peace Studies and British World War I Poets and taught in the KIIS Denmark Summer Program. He served as a time as the 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 enthused about poetry. “I go into it with missionary zeal," he said.
As for his own work, he valued quality over quantity.
“If something comes to me, I’ll write it down. I’ll play with it for a while,” he said in the 2017 profile. “I can pretty much tell early on in the process if this is going to work or not, and if it doesn’t work, I’m
not interested in keeping it around. I don’t care to be that prolific. I’d rather put out a small body of really good work than mediocre it down.”
Smock wrote 11 collections of poetry, including Gardencourt (Larkspur Press, 1997), The Good Life (Larkspur Press, 2000), Guest House (Larkspur Press, 2003), The Blue Hour (Larkspur Press, 2010) and The Bounteous World (Broadstone
Books, 2013), two books of prose, two collections of essays and a memoir.
His work also appeared 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 broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companion.
Smock received the 2005 Wilson Wyatt Faculty Award at Bellarmine University, the Al Smith Fellowship in Poetry from the Kentucky Arts Council, and the Jim Wayne Miller Prize for Poetry from Western Kentucky University.
His survivors include his sons, Ben and Sam, both of Louisville; two grandsons; a sister and a brother. His family plans a private gathering to honor his life. A memorial event for Professor Smock will be held at Bellarmine in the fall when students have returned to campus.
The Deer at Gethsemane
By Frederick Smock
There was a gate,
old and green,
that swung in the wind.
No fence stretched away
on either side anymore,
if ever one had.
The gate stood alone,
open on the meadow,
a seamless drift of land.
To my eye, that gate
organized the whole field
of vision. Everything
circled around the gate,
or radiated out from it,
or passed through it.
Surely I could never think
of crossing that field
and not passing through.
There was an inevitability
to it, and a promise that,
after passing through,
was sure to be revealed
on the other side.