We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Rod Smith doesn’t make sense, which is a good thing. Take, for example, the finale of Smith’s “Moist Feelings: A Love Poem”: “It feels like something/Wet and ugly/Has taken my place/It smells like strawberry surprise.”

Strawberry surprise? “If you Google it, it’s a little My Little Pony–looking toy,” says Smith, a 45-year-old Cleveland Park poet who’s managed Georgetown’s Bridge Street Books since 1993. But, he explains, the line serves as an absurd point of contrast to the conventions of a traditional love poem. “One of the functions of poetry is to ride the border between sense and nonsense,” says Smith. “It’s in pushing that boundary that makes poetry work.”

With Deed, published last month by the University of Iowa Press, Smith balances lyric depth and ridiculous humor. Interspersing musings on society, assumed voices, and absurd punch lines, his 10th book of poetry creates its own experimental logic. Which isn’t to say his verse is complicated. “What are the themes of poetry?” Smith asks. “Sex. Death. Money. The same as rock ’n’ roll.” Those themes run through the book, pulling influences from the European avant-garde and Americans like beat author Allen Ginsberg and experimental “language poet” Robert Creeley. The resulting poems are both irreverent (“i have a toad. its name is buber. buber the toad. buber raises rabbits. the rabbits live in a big can named big can. or rabbit can. mostly they complain”) and unsentimentally affecting (“This is my new style. How do you like it?/It has caused me great personal anguish.”)

The centerpiece of the book, which he began working on a decade ago, is a sprawling, 40-page poem titled “The Good House,” a dark and whimsical biography of a home. “The idea, at the time, was this: I’m a city poet,” says Smith. “I work in a bookstore. I’m never gonna have a house. I have to write one.”

Smith moved to the District in 1987, after leaving his job at a Manassas post office. He soon became a fixture of D.C.’s literary community, working at Bridge Street Books and publishing poetry through his journal Ariel and his Edge Books imprint. In 1996, he began teaching writing at George Mason University, even though his highest credential was a high school diploma. When GMU got wind of that, “they called me in to have a meeting with the MFA director,” Smith says. “I just put all the stuff I’ve edited on the desk in front of her. She looked at it and said, ‘Oh, OK. It’s OK.’”

Still, GMU urged Smith to officially validate his self-study with an MFA, which he completed in 2005. “They said, ‘You should have a degree,’ and I said, ‘Fine,’” says Smith. “It was a pain in the ass and cost a bunch of money, and I still haven’t used it yet.”

Smith is currently not using his MFA to edit The Collected Letters of Robert Creeley and promote Deed. (He reads at DCAC on Nov. 18.) Creeley inspired the book’s final poem, the five-line “Pour le CGT”: “We work too hard./We’re too tired/To fall in love./Therefore we must/Overthrow the government.”

“There’s no comment on that one,” says Smith. “It doesn’t seem to need one.”