James Rada, Jr.
Frances Smith’s oldest dated poem that he has is dated 1946, more than seventy years ago. Over that time, he has penned thousands of poems.
“I enjoy words and how they sound,” Smith said from his Taneytown home, which is filled with notebooks of his poetry and more than a few loose scraps of paper with his poetry on them.
As essential a part of his life as his poetry is now, it wasn’t always that way. When he was a young man studying to be a priest in the seminary, he had a hard time catching on to what is so wonderful about poetry.
His poetry instructor was a patient Catholic priest. Each day he would come into the classroom and begin by reading a poem. Then he would look at Smith.
“I would shake my head to tell him that I didn’t get it,” Smith said.
Day after day, poem after poem, Smith struggled to understand. Then, one day, the priest read a poem; Smith doesn’t recall what it was titled or who wrote it, but he remembers one line: “Meekly no angels fancy.”
Something about the poem touched him, and he understood. When the priest looked at him that day, Smith nodded. The priest went to his desk and picked up a large list of names and checked off Smith’s name. Apparently, Smith wasn’t the only seminarian who didn’t get poetry.
From there, his understanding of poetry multiplied, and he was soon tutoring a friend in it.
During his years at the seminary, he majored in philosophy and also taught at St. Joseph Prep School in Philadelphia. This served him well, because when he decided not to become a priest, he instead became a Carroll County teacher. Smith taught English in Sykesville High School, Taneytown High School, and Francis Scott Key High School, for forty years.
When he finally retired, Smith’s poetry and painting became his life’s pursuits. He is a cancer survivor, but it left him weak and unable to do strenuous activity. However, he can create pictures from word and paint.
“Writing and painting are my life,” Smith said.
He is poems are regularly published in The Catoctin Banner, and some of his collected poems have also been published in limited-edition books.
Frances Smith is shown with some of his own artwork.