As PEI’s first Poet Laureate, John Smith, while not a household name, is a relatively well known figure on PEI. A former English professor at UPEI who was held in high regard, Smith has developed a reputation as an animated performer; his skill as a reader has perhaps overshadowed his skill as a poet. When I first moved to PEI to attend the university I was taking a Modern British Literature class with another Island poet Brent MacLaine who, due to being away at a conference, brought in Mr. Smith to fill in. I was floored by his passion and presence as he belted out the classic verse of Yeats and Hardy. It was not until a year later in 2002 when he was appointed Poet Laureate of the province that I found out he himself was a poet. Since then I have hunted down a few of his volumes with this being the first I have read.
Midnight Found You Dancing is John Smith’s fourth collection of poetry. It is a very short volume, only 44 pages of poetry, and the majority of those poems are sonnets, none passing the 20 line mark. Published in 1986, I found the style in this collection to be a throwback to the classic poets of the 50s and 60s (Layton and Purdy for example). The language is very high and formal and the subject matter is very abstract. One of the principal themes that I picked out as a I read through this was the idea of change; many of the poems gave me the impression of standing on a precipice whether it be physical, psychological, societal, or cultural. The poems seem to typically look towards the past, but to answer the question of how it will affect the future.
I have to be honest, the structure of the poems in book got in the way of the enjoyment of them for me. The poems can best be described as short but wide; as stated before, the poems are never over 20 lines but each line is almost to the end of the page. I found this caused the poems to be somewhat dense and made it difficult to pick out key points while casually reading it. Early in his education, John Smith studied math and physics; many of the metaphors in this volume are scientific and again, that can get in the way of the readers absorption of these pieces. All-in-all this is a decent collection. Midnight Found You Dancing is incredibly hard to find; I chanced upon it at a local used book store but browsing online used book sites I only found three copies, two in Canada and one in France. From the research I have done this is not one of his most well know collections and as I read more of his books I am sure my enjoyment and understanding of John Smith will be elevated to the levels of other Island poets.