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About this poet

Born on June 25, 1955, Patricia Smith is a poet, teacher, performance artist and author. She is the author of Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2012), winner of the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, given for the most outstanding book of poetry published in the United States each year, as well as Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008), which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award; Teahouse of the Almighty (Coffee House Press, 2006), a 2005 National Poetry Series selection; Close to Death (Zoland Books, 1993); Big Towns, Big Talk (Zoland Books, 1992), which won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award; and Life According to Motown (Tía Chucha Press, 1991).

Of Smith’s award-winning book, judge Gregory Orr wrote, “With equal parts art, attitude, and heart, Patricia Smith’s Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah braids together personal narrative and a collective cultural journey. In poems propelled by voice and verve, she moves through the urbanscapes of Chicago and Detroit-- conjuring first love and Motown with equal fervor. Her poems simultaneously zip along the textured surface of these worlds and plunge to the soul-depths of the people who inhabit them. And we, her spellbound audience, follow in her sonic wake, grateful to be part of stories so alive with detail and urgent with anguish and purpose.”

Her poems have been published in many anthologies, including American Voices (McGraw-Hill, 2005), The Spoken Word Revolution (2003), and Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam (Three Rivers Press, 2001.) She is also the coauthor of a history book, Africans in America: America's Journey Through Slavery (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998), along with a children’s book, Janna and the Kings (Lee & Low Books, 2003). She is currently working on Fixed on a Furious Star, a biography of Harriet Tubman.

She is a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize, and her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Best American Essays and Best American Mystery Stories. She has written and performed two one-woman plays, one of which was produced by Derek Walcott’s Trinidad Theater Workshop.

She is a Cave Canem faculty member, teaches in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, and is a professor of creative writing at the City University of New York/College of Staten Island. She lives in Howell, New Jersey..


Selected Bibliography

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2012)
Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008)
Teahouse of the Almighty (Coffee House Press, 2006)
Close to Death (Zoland Books, 1993)
Big Towns, Big Talk (Zoland Books, 1992)
Life According to Motown (Tía Chucha Press, 1991)

Medusa

Patricia Smith, 1955
Poseidon was easier than most.
He calls himself a god,
but he fell beneath my fingers
with more shaking than any mortal.
He wept when my robe fell from my shoulders.

I made him bend his back for me,
listened to his screams break like waves.
We defiled that temple the way it should be defiled,
screaming and bucking our way from corner to corner.
The bitch goddess probably got a real kick out of that.
I'm sure I'll be hearing from her.

She'll give me nightmares for a week or so;
that I can handle.
Or she'll turn the water in my well into blood;
I'll scream when I see it,
and that will be that.
Maybe my first child 
will be born with the head of a fish.
I'm not even sure it was worth it,
Poseidon pounding away at me, a madman,
losing his immortal mind
because of the way my copper skin swells in moonlight.

Now my arms smoke and itch.
Hard scales cover my wrists like armour.
C'mon Athena, he was only another lay,
and not a particularly good one at that,
even though he can spit steam from his fingers.
Won't touch him again. Promise.
And we didn't mean to drop to our knees
in your temple,
but our bodies were so hot and misaligned.
It's not every day a gal gets to sample a god,
you know that. Why are you being so rough on me?

I feel my eyes twisting,
the lids crusting over and boiling,
the pupils glowing red with heat.
Athena, woman to woman,
could you have resisted him?
Would you have been able to wait
for the proper place, the right moment,
to jump those immortal bones?

Now my feet are tangled with hair,
my ears are gone. My back is curving
and my lips have grown numb.
My garden boy just shattered at my feet.

Dammit, Athena,
take away my father's gold.
Send me away to live with lepers.
Give me a pimple or two.
But my face. To have men never again
be able to gaze at my face,
growing stupid in anticipation
of that first touch,
how can any woman live like that?
How will I be able 
to watch their warm bodies turn to rock
when their only sin was desiring me?

All they want is to see me sweat.
They only want to touch my face
and run their fingers through my . . .

my hair

is it moving?

© 1992 by Patricia Smith, from Big Towns, Big Talk, published by Zoland Books (Cambridge, MA). Used with permission. All rights reserved.

© 1992 by Patricia Smith, from Big Towns, Big Talk, published by Zoland Books (Cambridge, MA). Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith

Born in 1955, Patricia Smith is a poet, teacher, and performance artist. She is the author of Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2012).

by this poet

poem
My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with
poem

and spy whole lifetimes on the undersides of leaves.
Jazz intrudes, stank clogging that neat procession
of lush and flutter. His eyes, siphoned and dimming,
demand that he accept ardor as it is presented, with
its tear-splashed borders and stilted lists, romance
that is only on the agenda