Meet the Poet: Merril D. Smith

Welcome to Meet the Poet, a Word Craft Poetry feature written to introduce you to the poets in our writing community. This is a way to get to know more about the poet and their work.

Did you know many of our poets are accomplished fiction and non-fiction authors? Some of our poets are also artists, crafting their magic through watercolors or other artistic means along with the written word. There are even a few musicians in our poetic community!

At least once a month, I’ll be introducing you to the poets in our community! Grab a cup of tea or coffee, and meet the poet!

Our guest this month is Merril D. Smith

Merril D. Smith grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs. She lives in southern New Jersey near the Delaware River with her husband and her beloved cat. She earned a Ph.D. in American History from Temple University, and she is the author of several books on history, sexuality, sexual violence, and gender. Her first poetry publication came about five years ago. She has been published in journals and anthologies that include Black Bough Poetry, Anti-Heroin Chic, Fevers of the Mind, Moons of August, and The Storms, among others. Her full-length collection, River Ghosts, was published by Nightingale & Sparrow Press. It was a featured book on Black Bough Poetry.

I brought peppermint tea! Join me!

Hello, Colleen! Thank you so much for this opportunity to chat with you about poetry. And thank you, too, for all you do on to help others learn about poetry.

Thanks so much, Merril. I love syllabic poetry and you’ve helped me learn to love all forms of poetry. So let me ask you… How important is the accessibility of your poem’s meaning? Should one have to work hard to “solve” the poem?

Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant—”  I think that is what poetry often does. It hints or nudges, or comes sideways at a topic. This is particularly true in short, imagist or syllabic forms. I enjoy that.

However, I don’t think readers should have to work hard to “solve” a poem. I think it has become fashionable to write obscure poems, but I simply find them frustrating to read. I heard an interview with a poet who explained the beauty of poetry is that a poem can have several layers of meaning. Schoolchildren might understand the surface meaning, and then as adults comprehend the deeper meaning. I agree with that—you can enjoy a poem without understanding every allusion.

I think my poetry is very accessible. Perhaps, it is often too much so to be taken seriously. And yet, I’m happy when someone tells me a poem of mine resonated with them or touched them in some way.

It’s those connections we make with our readers, that make writing poetry so fulfilling isn’t it? Merril, I’ve read your newest book, “River Ghosts,” and loved it! Here’s a link to my review: Significant Reads in Poetry—River Ghosts

Tell us about the book and why you wrote it.

(Click on the image to find the book on

My mom died of COVID in April 2020 during the first COVID wave, and I compiled my poetry book, River Ghosts, in that summer following her death. I had previously submitted a chapbook to Nightingale and Sparrow Press, and it made the first cuts, but was not selected for publication.

So, while the world was shut down, and I was grieving, I worked on the manuscript for the full-length collection, and it was accepted for publication! Some of the poems in the book were written years before; some had been published, and others were written that summer. Although the book came together during a time of personal and global loss, there is joy in it, too. It holds ghosts of happy memories, as well as the sad. My older child, Jay Smith, designed the cover.

© Merril D. Smith and her child, Jay who created the cover of River Ghosts.

Merril, where do you find inspiration for your poetry?

I find inspiration everywhere. I walk outside nearly every day, usually to the river, but pre-pandemic, my husband and I walked in Philadelphia every week. Though I’m inspired by nature, walking also gives me a chance to daydream, or even write poems in my head—about all sorts of things, history, space, my family–or a bird or flowers.

I also enjoy ekphrastic poetry—responding to an image—and when I am stuck, I will use prompt words to jumpstart a poem.

Thanks so much for sharing your book and your thoughts about writing poetry with us. I’m a huge fan of your poetry. Here’s where you can find Merril:

Amazon Author Page

Blog: Yesterday & Today: Merril’s historical musings

Thanks for stopping by to meet Merril D. Smith. See you next month, for another opportunity to Meet the Poet!

121 thoughts on “Meet the Poet: Merril D. Smith”

  1. When I have been around, I’ve often been inspired by Merril’s writing – poetry or fiction. She is a keen observer and a rich wordsmith – her images often linger in the mind and move the spirit with their sensitivity. It’s a true pleasure to read her works.

    Thanks to you both – Colleen and Merril, for the meet and greet. Many happy trails and writing adventures to come, I hope.

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    1. Thanks so much for your lovely comment. Merril has piqued my interest in various forms of poetry. I feel the same way about her writing. She looks at the world with a poetic eye and translates it into poetry for us to relate to. Her book, River Ghosts is fabulous!!

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  2. Lovely to meet Merril and so enjoyed your interview.

    Sometimes out of grief springs renewed energy and the book must have helped in channelling that grief into something positive.

    Wonderful share, and Jay has talent . 💙

    Much love Colleen and Merril 💛

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          1. Thank you for passing along the link. I just viewed all the images. I particularly like the use of color, symbolism, and embedded messages. What medium does Jay work in?

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  3. It is so lovely to meet Merril. My condolences on the loss of her mother. The book is beautiful and even more special since her son designed the cover. Thank you, Colleen, for sharing.

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  4. What an engaging review of Merril’s work and life
    Colleen. I so love her nature inspired poetry and love her words after Dickenson “Tell all the truth but tell it slant—”
    I hate working that hard at understanding poetry and yet am sometimes enamored by the words but worse feel like a moron… but just for a minute .. lol. The loss of your mom certainly was a gift to her and all of us in the end and I’m certain she is so proud of you! ❣️

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    1. Cindy, that quote by Dickinson: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant—” is so spot on!! This is what I mean about how Merril looks at the world. (Now, if I can learn how to do this myself). It’s kind of a magical tale for Merril with the birth of her book coming from the depths of grief… But what a lovely compilation River Ghosts is. Thanks so much, Cindy. 💛

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      1. It really is Colleen. I think it is a trick and magical as well and her book is heartfelt and a journey of love during grief. 💞
        You’re so welcome and truly, thank you for truly sharing her essence and background as well! 💗

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    2. Thank you so much, Cindy!
      It’s a very strange feeling–wanting to show her the book that I dedicated to her after she died. And my mom would have loved the cover art, too.

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    3. I enjoyed your interview with Merril and hearing her thoughts on poetry. I agree with her on the question of accessibility, although I will respectfully disagree that her poetry may be too accessible to be taken seriously. ;

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  5. HI Colleen, it is lovely to see Merril featured here. I will get getting to her poetry book soon. I have the same view that poetry does not need to be complex in order to strike a chord with a reader.

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          1. So, the problem was the Word document. I had to strip all of the formatting. Once I did that it imported and compressed the photos! How cool is that? We will have to see about the photo quality once I get the poetry reformatted. If the photo quality is off, I’ll go back and run each photo through to get to 300dpi. 🙏🏻❤️

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  6. Congratulations again, Merril! I have read and reviewed this poetry collection and can echo Colleen’s hearty endorsement. Merril is indeed a keen observer and a stellar wordsmith. I also approve of her brilliant red lipstick, so appropriate for February. 😀

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  7. Great interview! I’m not a fan of obscure poetry either, I much prefer laters to it. It was a beautiful collection for your mother. I find poetry a good place to work through our emotions

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  8. Merril’s poetry is absolutely beautiful. I try to read everything that she writes, but sometimes, I miss something! She captures so much beauty in the world around her. She inspires us to ‘see deeply’. Things are not always what they seem. She has a gift, a way of seeing life, that is truly a wonderful thing. By the grace of God, I found her in the blogging world. It has been such a blessing in my life!

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          1. I hardly know anyone who has not been touch by the devastation of COVID. My dearest friend’s Mom also became I’ll and did not make it. My heart goes out to you. ❤️

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  9. Sorry about your mom died of Covid complication, Merril! I love this interview, Colleen and Merril! Something I like poetry is that it doesn’t have to spell out all the details, but it doesn’t mean that it’s so vague that the readers can’t understand or relate. Congratulations on your new book. Jay did a wonderful job designing the cover. ❤

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  10. Thank you Colleen and continued success Merril!

    I agree that a poem doesn’t have to give everything away. The more you write about what you know… the more relatable it is to the reader. There are many who do not write poetry but enjoy reading it. And then there are the poets who enjoy reading each other. I think that is what bloggin at places Tanka Tuesday does – it allows for interaction and inspiration! Cheers ~Jules

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    1. You’re so right, Jules… I think writing a poem and allowing the reader to unwrap the meaning is such a good way to look at the craft. Writing and reading poetry are different. Great insight! ❤️

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  11. A fabulous interview, Colleen!
    I adore Merril’s poetry. “River Ghosts” is a rich tapestry of thought and emotion. I look forward to her next possible book of poetry.

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