Part ancient Greek chorus, part Southern Baptist revival, Songs for Two Voices is an explosive showcase for Bruce Smith's jazz-like variations on sonnets and couplets, offering twenty-five duets: poems of call and response, song and countersong. In poems that groove and break, shimmy and dance, Smith filters his Miles Davis-like riffs through a post-World War II American sensibility to deliver verse without platitudes.
As Smith's speakers wander through the detritus of American materialism-encountering jazz, football, drag, class war, Reaganomics, and Vietnam-the poems dramatize the contradictions and peculiarities of growing up male in Cold War America, both sensing promise and suffering disillusion.
Each poem here speaks in two voices: one that attacks and one that cowers, one voice that leads while the other follows. But Smith's subjects are unencumbered by form, and their voices blossom in duet: the idealized lover is also a betrayer, the man is also a girl. These binaries of statement and contradiction give birth to a third voice in the unrealized possibilities of the two.
A mesmerizing follow-up to 2000's The Other Lover, Smith's Songs for Two Voices is carnal yet fiercely intellectual, laid out with the self-confidence of a poet who can invoke Mozart and Coltrane, Anna Akhmatova and John Wayne, Teddy Roosevelt and Augustine in the same incendiary breath.