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This review is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

SENSUAL MUSIC WILLIAM JAY SMITH, Dancing in the Garden: A Bittersweet Love Affair with France (Bay Oak Publishers) $20
Words by the Water(Johns Hopkins University Press) £19 hb

Few poets go on writing well into old age, and the Louisiana-born William Jay Smith is one of them. Still going strong, he celebrates his ninetieth birthday this year with two impressive new books. He was a Rhodes Scholar and served as a Democratic representative in the Vermont legislature, was poet laureate of the United States and poet-in-residence at Columbia and Williams. His poetry, marked by great technical skill, is witty and satiric, poignant and humane. A complete man of letters, he's also published memoirs, children's stories, literary essays, an account of the amusing Spectra Hoax, and translations from French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish and Hungarian.

Smith's Dancing in the Garden continues the story of his life after Army Brat and leaps from American barracks to French bistros. The memoir focuses on the summer of 1938 in Tours, in the Loire valley, when he was twenty years old and a student at Washington University in St Louis. This vivid and charming memoir describes his first love during one of the transforming experiences of his life. Smith portrays himself as an innocent, insecure and rather bumbling hero - hesitant about wine, shy with girls, a timid observer in a Parisian brothel. He falls for a French girl, Diane Davril, whose rounded body (he warns us) hides her great fragility. Her sudden revelation that she's leaving Tours before what she calls their 'final cruel separation' foreshadows the débâcle when he follows her to La Baule, ...


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