Tag Archives: Robert Lavett Smith



Robert Lavett Smith is one of the finest poets I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. From early works such as “The Nob Hill Mariners” through his first masterpiece “Everything Moves With A Disfigured Grace,” on to recent collections such as “Smoke In Cold Weather” and his latest offering, “The Widower Considers Candles,” his voice has been clear, his language poignant, his vision devastating, and his heart profound.

That I have the honor of calling him friend is a blessing I will remain forever grateful for. That I have very occasionally crept into his work in some small fashion is a miracle I never quite believe, but it has indeed happened, and in fact, it happened again very recently, semi-indirectly courtesy of something written here on this blog.

The January 4th entry in my 365 Days of Album Recommendations series featured an album by Dave Van Ronk. Bob read the entry, and shortly thereafter produced the following extraordinary poem, which I humbly, gratefully, and excitedly share here, with the author’s permission:


For Christopher Watkins

To my delight, apparently it was true—
The Internet biographies inform me—
That Dave Van Ronk was fond of Tullamore Dew.

Dave was a Brooklyn bluesman through and through,
A folkie steeped in authenticity;
To my delight, apparently it was true.

I’ve long relied on booze and music, too;
And now I learn, somewhat belatedly,
That Dave Van Ronk was fond of Tullamore Dew.

He’d hoist the jug after a song or two,
Wetting his whistle not infrequently—
To my delight, apparently it was true.

All the performers of the era knew
His weathered voice owed something to the whiskey,
That Dave Van Ronk was fond of Tullamore Dew.

Since Dave embraced the same brand that I do,
I hasten to applaud his loyalty.
To my delight, apparently it was true
That Dave Van Ronk was fond of Tullamore Dew.


If you read this, and love it as I do, I encourage you to discover more of Bob’s work. He is a gift to us. He can be found on Amazon here.

A Night Of Poetry

It has been some time since I’ve given –and/or participated in– a proper poetry reading.


When my debut volume of poetry was released —Short Houses With Wide Porches— I had the honor of giving a reading at the legendary Bowery Poetry Club in New York. And I was most certainly honored to read in Orlando, Florida,where virtually all the poems in the book had been written, courtesy of a generous and remarkable grant from the Kerouac Project of Orlando.

Working on “Short Houses With Wide Porches” in The Kerouac House


But since then, readings have been few and far between for me. Partly, life is simply life. And there was also the fact that a rather unexpected return to music rather re-algorithmized my algorithms as well. But the point remains,  that you can essentially count the readings I’ve given in the past half-a-decade on about as many fingers as that is years.

Which is all the more reason why I’m so pleased to announce that I will be joining three other poets for a reading in San Francisco on May 7th!

Now, if that was the story alone, I’d be thrilled. But the original cone in the resonator of this solid steel news is that I ain’t jus’ joinin’ any ol’ three poets. I am in fact going to be reading with one of my true heroes of poetry. His name is Robert Lavett Smith, and I do not exaggerate at all when I say I have been as moved by his poetry as by any other writer ever —  living, dead or otherwise.


For those of you lurking at cult level status Preacher Boy fandom (and I do know there area at least a FEW of you!), you may recognize a line from one of Bob’s poems in a song I wrote and recorded whilst living in Chicago:Everything Moves With A Disfigured Grace. The line is the title of a poem that gives Bob’s debut volume it’s title, and pound for pound, it’s one of the most moving collections I’ve ever read. It’s simply extraordinary, and Robert Lavett Smith is an extraordinary poet.


Bob has seen two more collections published, the most recent of which is “The Widower Considers Candles.” It is an immense book; not is size, but in power. I received a copy months ago, and I still feel as if I’ve only just begun to read the first few poems.  It’s almost too much. As Mark Knopfler once sung, “the man’s too big/the man’s too strong.”

Which is not true, of course. Robert Lavett Smith is real, present, and tangible; not particularly dangerous, of fundamentally standard shape and size, and he will be at the Sunset Branch of the San Francisco Public Library on Thursday, May 7th, reading some of his incomparably beautiful words. And I will be there as well, with my own humble contributions slung into a shoulder bag. I’ll be reading a few things from Short Houses, as well as some recently published poems that are currently part of a new manuscript-in-progress entitled “The Waiting Room,” and lastly, a chorus or two from my not-yet-published book-length poem “I-80 Blues.”

Sunset Branch Library, San Francisco

I noted that there will be 4 poets altogether. Regretfully, I must state that I am not yet familiar with the other two poets, except by Bob’s recommendation/endorsement. But I look very forward to meeting them and experiencing their work. They are: Buford Earl Buntin and Owen Dunkle.

The Sunset Branch Library is located at 18th Avenue and Irving Street. The reading starts at 7:00 p.m. It’s on Thursday, May 7th. I hope you can come. Things like this don’t happen that often. Trust me.


For those of you who either know little about my poetry, or who don’t know me at all, or who know me only by my Preacher Boy music, here is just a wee bit o’ background on my poetry endeavors:

Christopher Watkins: Poetry

“The poems of Christopher Watkins are, at once, tender, shrewdly observed and enormously vital.”
-Baron Wormser (former Poet Laureate of Maine, a Guggenheim grant receipient, and the author of many award-winning collections of poetry.)

“Here are poems both tender and wild, ‘moist as rotting leaves,/ dank as garbage,/ ripe with life.’”
-Jeffrey Harrison (author of four collections of poetry, including The Singing Underneath, selected by James Merrill for the National Poetry Series.)

“The poems of Christopher Watkins are astonishing.”
-Ted Deppe (author of four collections of poetry, and the recipient of two Pushcart Prizes, and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.)

Christopher Watkins’ debut volume of poems “Short Houses With Wide Porches” was published by Shady Lane Press (a program of The Jack Kerouac Writer in Residence Project). He has additional poems published or forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, Redivider, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and more. Christopher Watkins was Writer-In-Residence at The Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida, and is the recipient of a residency grant from The Vermont Studio Center. He received his MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from The Stonecoast MFA Program at The University of Southern Maine.


The above first appeared here: http://cwistyping.com/2015/05/01/a-rare-wonderful-reading/


What A Difference An Arrangement Makes! Lonesome Traveler Two Ways

Songs are strange animals. Little chameleons. Remarkable how differently they behave in different outfits. It’s pretty rare to find a song that, no matter how you arrange it, it always sounds fundamentally the same. Blowin’ in the Wind maybe? Pretty much every version of that still sounds like Blowin’ in the Wind. But All Along The Watchtower, Dylan vs. Hendrix? Totally different songs …

Which brings me to a song called Lonesome Traveler that I recently rediscovered. I was reminded of the lyric by a good friend (the brilliant poet Robert Lavett Smith), who started quoting it to me during soundcheck at a recent show; he started in, and I found myself saying the words right along with him, even though I hadn’t sung it in probably a decade:

Someone left their teeth at The Tip Top,
and the lights in Vesuvio are dim.

Patrick is still looking for hemlock,
but nobody’s looking for him.

The next day, I pulled out my National (in standard tuning), and put down a lil’ demo of a new arrangement that came to me as I was falling asleep. Funky-ish, lots of 7 chords in the verses, and straight 4/4 time throughout. By comparison, the first proper recording of the tune had been during the sessions for The Devil’s Buttermilk. We did it in 6/8 time, with lots of piano and strings and such, and it has kind of a waltzy, boozy, dreamy and melancholy-dirty kind of vibe (gratitude and praise to Steve Pigott, who played keys and arranged the strings; crazy player, been w/ everyone from Joe Cocker to Debbie Harry to Uriah Heep to Rod Stewart!).

Anyhow, very different from the new incarnation, which is sort of funky and stark and blues-thumped.

You can compare the two versions here, if you’d like:

Lonesome Traveler (from The Devil’s Buttermilk)

Lonesome Traveler (new solo acoustic/national arrangement)

If you feel so inclined, let me know what ya think, and if ya have a preference!

Here’s the lyric, by the way; the title was inspired by a Jack Kerouac collection of short stories, and the references are to real things seen and experienced whilst walking about in San Francisco:


Lonesome Traveler

On the street, the dawn is descending,
Over mascara, grease-paint, and dirt.
The six o’ clock shakes are just ending,
And the bartender has stains on her skirt.

The daisy days have made way for silver,
And the leaves are entombed in brass,
And there’s a junkiedom backpacking Hitler
Writing his name in red lipstick on the grass.

The moon has a saddle full of splinters,
And the rain reminds you of home.
Gamblers sleep in the park in the winter,
And count chain links on the side of the road.

The last living heir of a princess
Keeps her rubies in an old pair of nylons.
“The bounties of Heaven are endless!”
Shouts Little Christ through his big orange pylon.

Someone left their teeth at The Tip Top,
And the lights in Vesuvio are dim.
Patrick is still looking for hemlock,
But nobody’s is looking for him.

The moon has a saddle full of splinters,
And the rain reminds you of home.
Gamblers sleep in the park in the winter,
And count chain links on the side of the road.

There’s a silver keychain dagger,
And Arthur has nicotine nails.
On a saxophone crutch he staggers,
As roof tar pelts down like hail.

The lonesome travelers crash down,
And 3rd street is surrounded by rust.
Bums sleep on pillows of hash browns,
And leave angel silhouettes in the dust.

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