Katherine Smith, Winter 2009-10 Contributor

Katherine Smith.jpg
Katherine Smith‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals and reviews, among them Shenandoah, Fiction International, Poetry, The Southern Review, Appalachian Heritage, Atlanta Review, Gargoyle, The Baltimore Review, Poems and Plays, and The Louisville Review. Her first book, Argument by Design, won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House Poetry Prize and appeared in 2003. A Tennessean, she currently teaches at Montgomery College in Germantown, Maryland and serves as poetry editor for The Potomac Review.
Smith’s poem “Provide” was published in the Winter 2009-10 edition of Ploughshares, guest edited by Tony Hoagland. View the Winter 2009-10 issue.

An excerpt from “Provide”:

Midwinter provides another meaning,
by which I mean that other, more elusive, pleasure

I know when I see, first, a lone brown mare fetlock deep in mud
ripping pale green alfalfa from a bale

After the jump, Smith shares how the work of Robert Frost has bewitched and bewildered her.


One of my least favorite poems in the English language is Robert Frost’s “Provide, Provide.” This poem has always baffled me, from the cruelty of its opening lines

The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag
Was once the beauty Abishag

through the bitter advice at the center of the poem’s hard heart

If need be occupy a throne,
Where nobody can call you crone

to the cynical last lines. Elegant in the economy of its language and merciless in its statement of the poet’s emotional reality, the poem strikes me as an almost toxic blend of eloquence and machismo.

Still, there’s that haunting tone, masterfully balanced on a razor’s edge of earnestness and irony. The end of “Provide, Provide” eludes me in a way I have always pondered. Does the poet really believe that it is “better to go down dignified with boughten friendship at your side than none at all”? For all its bright and bitter conviction, the poem finally shades into chiaroscuro, ambiguity, mystery.

I am fascinated by Frost’s control of tone and economy of language. In my own poem “Provide” I tried–on a much more humble scale than Frost’s–to achieve the same control of tone in a very short poem, to explore sexual desire and solitude. I did not want the poem to be likable. And I wanted the end to sound full of conviction, while merging into shadow.

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About Andrea Martucci

Andrea Martucci was the managing director of Ploughshares Literary Magazine from 2009-2013. She earned both a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing and an MA in Integrated Marketing Communication at Emerson College in Boston, MA. Prior to Ploughshares she founded a lifestyle magazine, worked at a newspaper, and edited a screenplay. Currently she is the VP of Marketing at AdSpace Communications, and can be found on Twitter @AndrejaJean
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2 Responses to Katherine Smith, Winter 2009-10 Contributor

  1. W. Perry Epes says:

    A marvelous blog on Frost’s “Provide, Provide.” I’ve also been disturbed and intrigued by this poem. Is it taking on the voice of an unappealing persona, undercut by dramatic irony, as in a Browning dramatic monologue? But even that is an insufficiently ambiguous reading, as your spot-on comment about the ending indicates. I loved your phrase “conviction merging into shadow”–what’s happening to all of us nowadays, and what some of the best of us–such as John Donne or Andrew Marvell–knew all along. I can’t wait to see the full text of “Provide.”
    This is the first time I’ve ever blogged. Thanks for providing the opportunity in such an inspired space.

  2. Naomi Thiers says:

    Thanks for this great post–it made me think and piqued curiosity. I didn’t remember Provide, Provide, so looked it up. You’re *&@# right, the tone is cryptic–it’s very bitter and dark humor-ish for Frost and almost sounds more like Phillip Larkin. But we expect that kind of tone from Phillip Larkin, so he wears it better… I wonder if the 5th stanza holds out hope for a more humane, truly dignified way to age: “Some have relied on what they knew/others on simply being true./What worked for them might work for you.” But again, the last line sounds so dismissive it’s hard to know.
    I’m looking forward to getting Ploughshares to read your Provide, Katherine! –Naomi Thiers