Unshuttered Poems

Patricia Smith, 1955-

Book - 2023

"In this poetry collection, an award-winning author presents a portrait of nineteenth-century Black America. This masterful and haunting mosaic is a search for lost histories, both personal and inherited"--

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Historical poetry
Evanston, Illinois : TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press 2023.
Main Author
Patricia Smith, 1955- (author)
Physical Description
xii, 98 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Smith (Incendiary Art, 2017), winner of the 2021 Poetry Foundation Ruth Lilly Award for Lifetime Achievement, has been searching for and collecting photographs of nineteenth-century African Americans for more than two decades. As she studied hard-to-find images of long gone men, women, and children in stiff clothing motionless before the camera, she "became obsessed with conjuring voices that reflect who the subjects in the pictures may have been and how they are inextricably connected to us." Forty-two formal portraits grace these pages, in which nearly no one smiles. The subjects are unnamed, but the studio and location, ranging from Philadelphia to Virginia, Chicago, Memphis, and Nebraska, are often displayed. Each image is accompanied by a poem which vary from spare, evocative lyrics to solidly constructed, history-stepped declarations of violence survived and violence to come. Each voice is unique and trenchant as the personas Smith creates so imaginatively, empathically, and adroitly express longing, love, grief, anger, defiance, and fortitude. A young man mourns his mother; a father mourns his daughter. We meet a wet nurse, a railroad worker, couples, families, and an elegant young Boston woman who states that her "step / is fierce." With tender precision, Smith's exquisite photo album elucidates our past and steers us toward a more conscious and ethical future.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In her evocative latest, Smith (Incendiary Art) combines photographs of Black Americans taken in the 19th century with poems written from the perspective of each image's subject to construct a wrenching tapestry of the effects of enslavement and promises of Reconstruction. A profile photo of a woman with bright eyes is accompanied by a poem describing her freedom to walk down the street, as her mother could not: "I am not my mother, squatting howler whose/ body spat a squalling into dust." One woman mourns her brother, a victim of a lynch mob, while another grieves her son with a devastating, unbridled lament: "I wept wide/ like an opened cage. I cried whole lying Bibles,/ screeched the backsides of hymns." Elsewhere, a smiling woman contemplates how the picture she is posing for might attract suitors: "This portrait should engage/ the interest of some decorous and cultivated gent/ accustomed to the ways of wooing." The poems are keenly multifaceted, as Smith considers her subjects' possible grief, shame, sexuality and gender identity, and joy in everyday moments. This is an affecting, lyrical work of empathy and imagination complemented by stunning images. (Feb).

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