Poetry Fridays: Patricia Smith

Posted on by Dodge

Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry

Patricia Smith’s reading of her poem “34” reminds us that poetry comes out of an oral tradition that predates written language by tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years.

We know the epics and sacred texts that built the foundation for all the literature that has followed were originally composed on the tongue. They were passed on, generation by generation, through the oral tradition.

It has been argued that the truest histories have been written by our poets, who capture the human costs of those momentous events that the official histories tend to abstract and glorify.

The Iliad chronicles one of the great disasters of its age: a war that raged for a decade and ended in the destruction of a once beautiful and flourishing city. In the centuries since, poets have striven to understand the catastrophes of their own times.

This is never more so than in those cases when vast human suffering seems the inexplicable result of our own folly. For Homer, it was the fall of Troy; for Patricia Smith, it is the fall of New Orleans in the wake of hurricane Katrina.

In Blood Dazzler, her book-length sequence of poems from which “34” is taken, Smith assumes the personae of countless participants in and victims of the disaster. We would like to make sense out of such an event, but we also know its survivors can never fully explain why it happened. To hear Smith read one of these poems is to enter into their unending dilemma. In writing and reading these poems, Smith pulls us directly into her struggle to understand.

A biography of Patricia Smith can be found in the 2008 Festival Poet Pages.

Return to Poetry Fridays in the weeks ahead, when we will feature video clips of readings by Kevin Young, and others.

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2 Responses to Poetry Fridays: Patricia Smith

  1. Edward Zaleski says:

    A poem that I have held in my facebook account for sometime is something I’d like to share. It apparently concerns the health of this country and the healing we may realize if only we listen to ourselves, truly and seriously. There are times when we give ourselves more than we need to feel better and then there are times when we give more to others when we must maintain our own care. I am contributing this work so that others may continue where I must walk ahead on my own behalf:

    On Hope

    On hope we hang our future visions cast
    On hope we see the people of our past
    Within the frame and behind the glass
    On hope we understand where once we could not let our patience last

    On hope we give until we cry
    On hope we listen to the silent sky
    Outside our dreams are working as we try
    On hope and wear it like a cape, a suit of armor or a blanket that will keep us warm and dry

    Because of hope
    Because we dream
    No matter what we need or think we lost
    Will always ride upon the daylight beam

    On hope

  2. […] week, we heard four-time National Poetry Slam Individual Champion Patricia Smith read her poem “34” from Blood Dazzler, her book-length meditation on Hurricane Katrina. To continue our exploration of […]

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