University of Tennessee poetry professor Arthur Smith knew he was going to be a poet when he was 17 years old.
In what he calls a “mystical experience,” Smith heard his high school English teacher read “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas and immediately knew what he wanted to dedicate his life to.
“At the end of that poem, it was just like my head lifted up off my shoulders and it was all bright lights,” Smith said. “From that instant on, my life was altered.”
After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Houston, Smith came to UT in 1986 — his first job out of college.
“I’ve been here a long time now,” Smith said. “I loved it at the beginning and I love it still.”
Growing up in Central Valley, California, “where all the fruits and vegetables are grown,” Smith said there weren’t many poets he could look to as role models. When Phillip Levine, a poet from Smith’s hometown of Fresno, came to a book signing, Smith jumped at the chance to see someone who had turned his dream into a long-term profession.
“I realized that here, even in this dusty, dirty place where nobody cares anything about poetry, there’s this man who really cared about it and was defending it and hollering at people who didn’t like it,” Smith said. “I just kind of watched him and said to myself ‘That’s what a poet looks like.'”