Anne Herzog, Chairperson of the Department of English, Dr. Cherise Pollard and Poetry House Director, Michael Peich, along with students, welcomed writer, poet and spoken-word poet Patricia Smith for a poetry reading and craft lecture on Tuesday, February 26 at Sykes Student Union.”I wanted to see what it was like to hold a room for a moment,” Smith said, speaking about a memory of the first time she read her poetry in a Chicago blues bar.
Before she began writing, Patricia jokingly admitted that she and her friends would “get drunk and laugh at poets.”
Now Patricia Smith is an award-winning poet and an accomplished journalist, teacher and mother.
Spending her Sundays at Green Mills poetry slams, Patricia started writing and became a widely known conventional and performance poet, all while witnessing the birth of slam poetry.
“Slam grew through leaps and bounds,” said Smith. Slam poetry grew from Sundays with a $10 prize to the size it is now, with National Youth Slam competitions.
“I could never hope to even have that temporary power,” Smith explained, when she first realized the emotional impact that her poetry could have on the audience. As a guest speaker at a local Chicago meeting, three women had to leave because they became to emotionally upset while listening to Patricia Smith’s poem “Undertaker,” which she had written for her son.
Smith’s son had been “flirting with gang violence,” and as a way to help deter him from making the decision to join a gang, Smith wrote a series of poems to reflect the effects and consequences of gang violence. The women that left the meeting during Smith’s reading had previously felt the personal effects of gang violence, losing family members and friends.
The poem “Undertaker” was made into a short film and won awards at the Sundance and San Francisco Film Festivals, along with a Cable Ace Award from Lifetime Network’s first annual Women’s Film Festival.
Patricia Smith’s poems have been published in the Paris Review, TriQuarterly, AGNI, as well as many other literary journals. She is the four-time champion of the National Poetry Slam. She has been featured in HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and “Slamnation,” along with performing her poem “Awakening in Chicago at the Inauguration of Mayor Richard Daley in 1991.
Patricia Smith’s fifth book of poetry, “Blood Dazzler,” is a 2008 National Book Award finalist. “Blood Dazzler” archives the human, physical, and emotional tolls that Hurricane Katrina had, along with the catastrophic natural events of spiritual and political impacts on people inside of and outside the impacted region.
Patricia Smith’s poetry collections include “Teahouse of the Almighty,” a National Poetry Series selection and winner of the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and Paterson Poetry Prize, “Close to Death,” which includes her signature poem “Undertaker,” “Big Towns, Big Talk,” and “Life According to Motown.” Smith’s non-fiction books include “Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery,” along with Smith’s children’s literature book “Janna and the Kings.”
Opening for Patricia Smith were two West Chester students, Mike Voss and Selina Carrera. Voss, 20, is a junior English student and recording artist, whose fourth release “Moodswinging Vol. 2” will be available March 20 during his CD release party at 7:30 pm in Main Hall 168. Voss will be performing along with Josh Loss, Jake Palumbo and Me and This Army. Samples of his music can be found at myspace.com/VossMusic.
Carrera is a West Chester University graduate student, majoring in Music and Communications along with a minor in journalism. She is the co-founder of an after school program known as “The Lyrical Playground,” designed to teach high school students the history of, as well as various techniques and styles of spoken-word poetry. She has recently been signed to Columbia Records and is producing her debut record, samples of her work can be found at myspace.com/SelinaCarrera.
Joli McCarthy is a third-year student majoring in English and minoring in Journalism. She can be reached at JM625940@wcupa.edu.