Regan Smith emerges from the dark with 'Morning Air, Morning Light'

Andy Downing
Regan Smith

Morning Air, Morning Light actually opens amid darkness, poet Regan Smith penning stark, harrowing verses about her experiences with depression, an eating disorder, addiction and sexual assault.

“This was the room/Where the walls were carved like my skin,” she writes on “Isolation’s Induction.” “Where I wrote countless suicide notes.”

“As I got down to work, I pulled some poems I had written when I was really in the middle of the mess I was in. And then as I continued to write and pull other poems … I realized there were still so many places in my heart that had hurt, and still had wounds that needed healing,” said Smith, who spent the better part of three years writing and editing the collection.

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The book follows a pronounced arc, and the language in opening section “Nightfall” is heavier and more deeply bruised (Smith repeats words like "exhaustion," "withdrawal," "grey" and "ash"). Early themes repeatedly return to an idea the poet expresses bluntly in one line: “How long does it take/To be at a breaking point/Before you’re broken?”

“I’m able to honor my past and say, ‘This is something that I’ve gone through and I have the scars to show for it,’” said Smith, who moved to Columbus a few months ago following a stint in Nashville. “But scars are amazing because … it shows that open wound has since healed over.”

The first sign of this brutal weather breaking arrives in “The Cliff,” a poem in which Smith bottoms out but somehow uncovers the “rebirth … rooting in my veins.” Absolution isn’t immediate, though. Several poems linger in a fog, and there are later mentions of relapse on the long road to recovery.  Regardless, from that moment, a gradual lightening occurs, like a garden gradually waking up following a long, harsh winter.

For Smith, much of the recovery process was propelled by her pen, a tool she describes in one piece as “my introduction to healing.” Indeed, as the collection unfolds, Smith only slips back into damaging old thought and behavior patterns during those stretches when she stops writing, as she documents on “Relapse.” “I dropped my pen/For almost a year/Due to self-doubt,” she writes. “That’s when they came,” the word “they” conjuring a host of potential demons.

“Writing is almost medicinal for me, because when I write I’m able to look at my life through a third-party lens,” said Smith, who will read during a multimedia presentation created around Morning Air, Morning Light at Wild Goose Creative on Friday, March 13. “A lot of times, we’re almost too close to our hearts, and we’re almost too close to our habits and emotions. And when I write, I can step back … and get the mess out of my mind and on to paper so I can better organize my thoughts.”

Entering into the section titled “Golden Gaze,” these thoughts are finally injected with sunlight. Smith’s self-image improves (a poem surfaces where she again describes her body as a temple rather than a collection of flaws) and even the language takes a more hopeful turn, with words like "peace," "conviction," "clean" and "spring" recurring.

“It’s such a state of renewal,” said Smith, who appears fully revived by book’s end (one line from the second to last poem reads, “I am fully and wholly alive”). “I’m such a morning person, and whenever I walk outside my favorite thing is that first deep breath, because it’s so pure and refreshing. You feel so renewed, like anything can happen. It’s the same feeling an artist gets staring down a blank canvas: This can be anything I want it to be; I just need to steward it well.”

Wild Goose Creative

7 p.m. Friday, March 13

2491 Summit St., North Campus

Regan Smith