Flyover Country is a powerful collection of poems about violence: the violence we do to the land, to animals, to refugees, to the people of distant countries, and to one another. Drawing on memories of his childhood on a dairy farm in Illinois, Austin Smith explores the beauty and cruelty of rural life, challenging the idea that the American Midwest is mere “flyover country,” a place that deserves passing over. At the same time, the collection suggests that America itself has become a flyover country, carrying out drone strikes and surveillance abroad, locked in a state of perpetual war that Americans seem helpless to stop.
In these poems, midwestern barns and farmhouses are linked to other lands and times as if by psychic tunnels. A poem about a barn cat moving her kittens in the night because they have been discovered by a group of boys resonates with a poem about the house in Amsterdam where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis. A poem beginning with a boy on a farmhouse porch idly swatting flies ends with the image of people fleeing before a drone strike. A poem about a barbwire fence suggests, if only metaphorically, the debate over immigration and borders. Though at times a dark book, the collection closes with a poem titled “The Light at the End,” suggesting the possibility of redemption and forgiveness.
Building on Smith’s reputation as an accessible and inventive poet with deep insights about rural America, Flyover Country also draws profound connections between the Midwest and the wider world.
Awards and Recognition
- Finalist for the Northern California Book Award in Poetry, Northern California Book Reviewers
"The quiet rural boys and men of Smith’s poems want neither colorful escape nor radical transformation, though their hard lives speak to our social system too. . . . They want to make do, get by, as disillusioned adults, and they find it harder than it should be, in part because farm life has always been hard, in part because much of America does not see, or does not want to see, them. . . . Weldon Kees, Donald Justice and, behind them, Robert Frost constitute the tradition in which Smith works, and in his hands it is political."—Stephanie Burt, New York Times Book Review
"Inspired by his childhood on a dairy farm in Illinois, tales of rural life lead the way in this Austin Smith collection focused on family, violence, and memories."—Matt Sutherland, Foreword Reviews
"Austin Smith . . . weav[es] the everyday violence of farm life into poetry that darkens the Robert Frost idyll. Flyover Country buzzes with the sober vitality of acknowledgement, refusing to recognize 'the cat you love coming back / From the windbreak' without the 'rare songbird / In his mouth.' Smith unveils the brutality of otherwise Instagram-friendly landscapes, instilling a deep sense of stability in the core of his poetry. In their logic, these poems subconsciously circumvent sensationalism — the dead bird in the jaw of the cat prevents us from posting it to Instagram."—Verity Sturm, Michigan Daily
"Flyover Country by Austin Smith is a marvelous collection that conveys deep insights and exquisite details about life in the Midwest. . . . What links his subjects, as the title suggests, is the fact that seemingly invisible actions taken by Americans have lasting consequences in places we typically choose to view only from a distance."—Elizabeth Lund, Washington Post
"This masterwork is pure body heat about the humane and the inhumane — how we treat each other — in anecdote, narrative, personal, and historical poems. A spectrum of stories is rooted in the Midwest with indelible characters and memorable events. Smith can sound like your next-door neighbor even while lacing cruelty and sweetness neatly together. He’s captured the heart of rural America and navigated its conscience brilliantly."—Grace Cavalieri, Washington Independent Review of Books
"These poems live in the delicate space between the ordinary and the luminous. They are filled with lived experience, sharp scene-setting, close observations, but their power comes from the tact of the rhythm and the diction, the flawless sense of tone. Thus Smith plays memory against mystery, the plain against the visionary, fact against feeling, to produce a poetry that has a vast range of expression, that offers space for a sensibility to emerge richly and fully."—Colm Tóibín
“Austin Smith’s Flyover Country is a book of vital and generative reckoning, one that finds both the intimate knowledge held in large landscapes and the larger knowledges found within intimate places and acts. Smith travels the paths of the actual, the emotional, and the imaginative with a physical sureness; his words carry mystery, memory, stories personal and communal. These pages carry, too, Smith’s sustaining, taproot awareness: that what we put into this world and what we draw from it matter.”—Jane Hirshfield, author of The Beauty