Poetry professor brings culture, creativity to English department

Now that school has been in session for more than a week, you’ve probably started to notice some new faces. One of those belongs to Icelandic translator, poet and assistant professor of English and creative writing Lytton Smith.

Smith isn’t a stranger to Western New York. He lived between Rochester and New York City four years ago when his wife had a fellowship at the University of Rochester for a year. Smith has done work for the university himself; translating works of Icelandic fiction like Bragi Ólafsson's The Ambassador. Smith said that the “independent stuff going on with music, radio and breweries” has him excited to be back. He grew up in a small town in England. While, his parents got him into verse speaking competitions at a young age and exposed him to a range of poetry, Smith didn’t identify as a writer until he was in high school.

Writing became a larger part of his identity while he attended University College in London, England. There were no workshops, so he set up a literary magazine called 50 Meters Fully Clothed with some of his friends. Another major shift in Smith’s writing destiny occurred when he decided that the time he was taking to memorize lines for theater would be better spent on writing. Smith has published two books of poetry and is working on a third. One of his books, All Purpose Magical Tent was published in 2008. “It’s about being unsettled, not having a place in either in language or in the world,” Smith said. “It’s fascinated with circuses and exclusions, but in a fairly whimsical way.” Displaying a trait that isn’t uncommon in poets, Smith admits that while he’s written a book influenced by the circus, he’s only been to three in his life. Smith’s second book, While You Were Approaching the Spectacle But Before You Were Transformed by It, published in 2013, switches topics and themes drastically as it tries to explore the relationship between poetry, politics and ethics.

Now, Smith is astonished that he thought of applying for MFA’s in fiction. “I’ve always been interested in form, like the line, and discovering a range of forms, getting beyond just the sonnet,” he said. Translation and poetry are complimentary activities to Smith. He describes the translation process as a "wonderfully creative jigsaw.” “You try to work out what all the pieces are and how they fit together, but then you get to rearrange it so it’s an even better image than you started with, in a sense,” he said. With Icelandic being a more obscure language, it comes with the satisfaction of introducing the literature to people who wouldn’t otherwise come to it.