J.D. Smith


From the time I first thought of "The Cool of '94" to the time I actually wrote the poem, a span of at least two years, I knew the poem had to be a ballade, with all its snares and challenges in a rhyme-poor language like English.  The form's history of being used by troubadours and others to lament bygone days and persons, and address the passage of time, fit well with my own interest in bidding a final (and reluctant) farewell to youth. Since the ballade is associated with an elevated style and courtly traditions, I also worked through an American and democratic impulse to play off of those conventions by taking a colloquial and in places hard-boiled tone, as well as by using references to popular culture.




The Cool of ‘94

Distraught as if a god had died,
They wept and moaned for Kurt Cobain.
Still, Eddie Vedder was their guide
To plumbing depths of white-bread pain.
“Alternative” had yet to wane.
Doc Martens thudded on the floor.
Perhaps Fox Mulder could explain—
Where are the cool of ’94?

Where did the slackers run and hide
Who clerked while on a higher plane?
And where the girls those slackers eyed?
Which still wear Seuss hats and disdain
The suit and tie as ball and chain?
Who still shops at the Goodwill Store?
Can any answer this refrain:
Where are the cool of ’94?

Did some leave meth and X untried,
Yet find a world of weight to gain?
Do some sell real estate, or ride
In car pools or a morning train?
Since when did they go with the grain?
When did they wise up, learn the score?
The years’ thread spins out from the skein.
Where are the cool of ’94?

Like snowflakes melting in the rain,
They’ve lost their shape and are no more.
We ask our former selves, in vain,
Where are the cool of ’94?






J.D. Smith was awarded a 2007 Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has published two collections of poetry and is at work on a third, in addition to essays and fiction. More information is available on his web site.