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the Vows
Renewing the Vows - Peter Schmitt.jpg

“Peter Schmitt’s poetry has always centered on the delicate verisimilitudes of the human heart.  Somehow, he always finds the right images in their precise cadences to nudge the reader towards true feeling.  He reminds one of Nabokov for whom remembrance and love are the same thing.”


—John Balaban, Lamont Prize-winning poet

“Peter Schmitt’s Renewing the Vows unlocks the poetry behind the tiny doors of everyday moments.  I know of no poet who observes the subtlety of human expression and gesture with such insight and precision.  These carefully crafted poems are full of a refreshing humility and empathy—an openness to life, with both its sadness and grief, and its magical moments of transcendence.  It’s simply a jewel of a book.”


—Jim Daniels, Brittingham Prize winner and author of more than 40 books of poetry and fiction

“In these moving, fine-grained poems Peter Schmitt makes a journey into time—revisiting and gleaning, revealing how we absorb, at first nearly unawares, the great shaping facts of place and family, and culture.  Schmitt has a wonderful eye for the small but signifying gesture: the widow staring into a sunstruck hallway; a father’s trembling shoulders; a worker steering a forklift with the touch of a single finger.  The urgencies of mortality also charge these poems: their discoveries come amidst hurricanes and hospital rooms, a burning house, encounters with vulnerable souls, and one heroic rescue.  Among the findings in this collection are some of the origins of the poet’s own aesthetic, about which he is characteristically wise, scrupulous, and witty.  What I admire above all in Renewing the Vows is Peter Schmitt’s capacity to honor and memorialize, with deep humanity, while also meditating on how much eludes the reach of memory and language.”

—Emily Hiestand, “Discovery”/The Nation Prize-winning poet

“Peter Schmitt’s quiet, low-keyed voice in Renewing the Vows is a way of coming to terms with the often affecting and painful moments they celebrate.  The title poem—in which his parents renew their vows, the father soon to die—is only one of many convincing elegiac reminiscences.  They are poems the more true for never making too much of themselves.”


—William H. Pritchard, esteemed literary critic

“It is as if the deftness of art is one response to the pain that these poems acknowledge again and again.  The benefit is ours as well as the poet’s.  To read this book is to renew, if not one’s vows, one’s recognition that it is in a poem that a writer’s felt engagement of sorrow can become a reader’s…a collection that is never less than highly accomplished…A very good book.”



Featured Poem: "Field Guide"

Field Guide


…and whatever the man called every living creature,

that was its name.


Because it wasn't enough

just to see him—

we had to know his name—

on the screened-in porch

we glanced back and forth

from Peterson’s Field Guide

to a dead treetop 

by the shore

where a bird whose size

we’d seen nowhere near

the lake in years

perched motionless staring

at the blurry text

of the not-yet-frozen water.

And naturally

the very moment we settled

on the color plate, finally,

making positive I.D.,

was exactly when we missed

the dive he was made for—

for as our gaze

lifted off the page

he was already rising up

and beating away

with dinner flapping

in his talons,

leaving us his name

in a wake of spray—osprey!—

“whose dive,”

Peterson’s advises,

“is steep, feet-first,


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