Saturday, April 27, 2019

30 Great Poems for April, Day 27: “Fences” by Austin Smith

Read “Fences” on Poetry Daily here.

Just look at these muscular words: scolded, driven, lean, forced, march, swallow, taut. Austin Smith packs all of these into this very lean poem. All through it, there’s a sense of almost futile work, hard labor under brutal circumstances, and then these acceptances of what’s given but not wanted, things that actually harm over time: swallowing the wire, taking it in, bit by bit. By the end of this poem, you know it’s about a kind of living, not about fences at all.

Sometimes I love poems because they’re not at all like something I’d write. Others, like this one, I love because they’re poems I wish I’d written. This spare, and yet this expansive. And he piles on the sentence fragments, which makes each short line cut to the chase even faster. Startling, insidious, this poem drives its message into you gradually, the way barbed wire violates a tree.

Down at the bottom of the Poetry Daily page is an intriguing description of Smith’s book Flyover Country, from which this poem comes. Looks like great reading.

[All through April, I’m featuring a favorite poem every day, along with a link where you can read it. Some are classics, some are newer, but each one is the kind of poem that I read, love, and immediately want to tell all my friends about. What better to time to share them than National Poetry Month?]


  1. Yeah, I remember when this appeared on PD. That was an instant share on Twitter.

    1. It is an instant classic. Great companion piece to the Richard Hugo poem about the abandoned farm.