Patricia Smith

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Patricia Smith Headshot

Patricia Smith is the award-winning author of eight critically-acclaimed books of poetry, including Incendiary Art (Triquarterly Books, 2017), winner of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the 2018 NAACP Image Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2012), winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008), a National Book Award finalist; and Gotta Go, Gotta Flow (CityFiles Press, 2015), a collaboration with award-winning Chicago photographer Michael Abramson. Her other books include the poetry volumes Teahouse of the Almighty (Coffee House Press, 2006), Close to Death (Zoland Books, 1998), Big Towns Big Talk (Zoland Books, 2002), Life According to Motown (Tia Chucha, 1991);  the children’s book Janna and the Kings (Lee & Low, 2013), and the history Africans in America (Mariner, 1999), a companion book to the award-winning PBS series. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, The Baffler, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Tin House and in Best American Poetry, Best American Essays and Best American Mystery Stories. She co-edited The Golden Shovel Anthology—New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks (University of Arkansas Press, 2017)and edited the crime fiction anthology Staten Island Noir (Akashic Books, 2012). She is a Guggenheim fellow, a Civitellian, a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient, a finalist for the Neustadt Prize, a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize, a former fellow at both Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history. Smith is a Distinguished Professor for the City University of New York, a visiting professor at Princeton University and an instructor in the Vermont College of Fine Arts Post-Graduate Residency Program.


Black, Poured Directly into the Wound

Prairie winds blaze through her tumbled belly, and Emmett’s
red yesterdays refuse to rename her any kind of mother.
A pudge-cheeked otherwise, sugar whistler, her boy is
(through the fierce clenching mouth of her memory) a
grays-and-shadows child. Listen. Once she was pretty.
Windy hues goldened her skin. She was pert, brown-faced,
in every wide way the opposite of the raw, screeching thing
chaos has crafted. Now, threaded awkwardly, she tires of the
sorries, the Lawd have mercies. Grief’s damnable tint
is everywhere, darkening days she is no longer aware of.
She is gospel revolving, repeatedly emptied of light, pulled
and caressed, cooed upon by strangers, offered pork and taffy.
Boys in the street stare at her, then avert their eyes, as if she
killed them all, shipped every one into the grips of Delta. She sits,
her chair carefully balanced on hell’s edge, and pays for sanity in
kisses upon the conjured forehead of her son. Beginning with A,
she recites (angry, away, awful) the alphabet of a world gone red.
Coffee scorches her throat as church ladies drift about her room,
black garb sweating their hips, filling cups with tap water, drinking,
drinking in glimpses of her steep undoing. The absence of a black
roomful of boy is measured, again, again. In the clutches of coffee,
red-eyed, Mamie knows their well-meaning murmur. One says She
a mama, still. Once you have a chile, you always a mama.
 Kisses
in multitudes rain from their dusty Baptist mouths, drowning her.
Sit still, she thinks, til they remember how your boy was killed.
She remembers. Gush and implosion, crushed, slippery, not a boy.
Taffeta and hymnals all these women know, not a son lost and
pulled from the wretched and rumbling Tallahatchie. Mamie, she
of the hollowed womb, is nobody’s mama anymore. She is
tinted echo, barren. Everything about her makes the sound sorry.
The white man’s hands on her child, dangled eye, twanging chaos,
things that she leans on, the only doors that open to let her in.
Faced with days and days of no him, she lets Chicago — windy,
pretty in the ways of the North — console her with its boorish grays.
A hug, more mourners and platters of fat meat. Will she make it through?
Is this how the face slap of sorrow changes the shape of a
mother? All the boys she sees now are laughing, drenched in red.
Emmett, in dreams, sings I am gold. He tells how dry it is, the prairie.

Continue reading at The Poetry Foundation.


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Writing in a Time of Crisis –2022 Lannan Symposium | March 23, 2022

Reimagining the American Narrative –2022 Lannan Symposium | March 23, 2022

Reading with Tim Seibles | October 20, 2015