Best known for: Bringing her bold, provocative and sometimes humorous poetry to life onstage. Sex, racism, God, politics: no topic is off-poetic limits for Smith. While her work holds its own on the page, her bluesy performances add fierce emotion. Smith has performed her poetry at venues and festivals around the world and is a four-time champion of the National Poetry Slam.
Blood Dazzler: Smith’s latest collection of poetry details the heartbreaking aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She takes readers to flooded neighborhoods, an abandoned nursing home and a relief center in Texas, giving voice to neglected storm victims, who remain sorrowful yet hopeful. With eloquence and subtle criticism, Smith leaves no aspect of New Orleans’ plight untouched. Blood Dazzler was a National Book Award finalist in 2008.
Katrina as a brutal lover: “The idea was not/ to stomp it flat, ‘trina,/ all you had to do was kiss the land,/ brush your thunderous lips against it/ and leave it stuttering, scared barren/ at your very notion. Instead,/ you roared through like/ a goddamned man, all bicep and must,/ flinging your dreaded mane/ and lifting souls up to feed your ravenous eye.”
One reviewer says: “Smith is herself a storm of beautiful, frightening talent. Her words will wash you or wash you away. I consider this new book a major literary event.” (Terrance Hayes)
What to expect: A slam poetry performance isn’t your grandmother’s poetry recital. Smith, who once joined friends in laughing at poets, found her niche in delivery-focused genre as it was born in Chicago in the 1980s. Her poems are written as though they are meant to — no, beg to — be performed. Onstage, Smith is sassy yet articulate. Verses flow easily off her tongue as she proceeds and pauses, whispers and shouts, leaving audiences hanging on her every word. Smith has mastered the “persona poem,” in which she takes on another identity, often that of someone from an urban background. To drive home the reality of racism, she has even personified a white supremacist. For Get Lit, Smith will collaborate with local musicians to perform a hybrid of slam poetry and jazz. — NATALIE JOHNSON
Patricia Smith and local jazz musicians will perform selections from Blood Dazzler on Wednesday, April 21, at 7 pm at the Fox. Opening act: four local poetry slam winners. Tickets: $20; free, students.