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Patricia Smith. Teahouse of the Almighty.

Patricia Smith. Teahouse of the Almighty. Minneapolis Coffee House (Consortium, distr.). 2006. 91 pages. $15. ISBN 1-56689-193-0

TEAHOUSE OF THE ALMIGHTY is Patricia Smith's fourth poetry collection and numbers among several other publications, including children's books and a historical text. In addition to being a writer, Smith is also a performance poet who has taken the stage at a range of venues including international poetry festivals, Carnegie Hall, and the Sorbonne in Paris. She has appeared in the film Slamnation and in HBO's series Def Poetry Jam.

Smith says that in Teahouse of the Almighty she resists succumbing to the urge to unify the poems with a theme, and she suggests that her collection is an "unflinching snapshot" of her life. This decision is apparent in the range of subjects her poems address, from the soul-shattering drama of everyday life evident in news headlines to the liberating and uplifting power of poetry. But despite her lack of intent to spin a thematic web, Smith's pieces are underscored by a reverence for the raw drama and passion of human existence.

Several poems address this drama from an intriguing angle by exploring incidents that have made their way into the news. "Boy Dies, Girlfriend Gets His Heart" chronicles the bizarre series of events that lead to a fifteen-year-old boy donating his heart to his girlfriend and her body's subsequent rejection of that heart several years later. Smith deftly uses the complications of the transplant to explore the complexities of romance when she writes, "The fickle traitorous heart is a need / no one misses. In heaven, / they keep one beating / in a cage, purely for show."

Religious passion takes center stage in some poems, and Smith describes her collection as, among other things, her "discarded Baptist upbringing." In the poem "Map Rappin'," Smith engages religion as a rousing form of spirituality: "Mama say the Lord enters you in stages, / first like a match lit under your skin ....Mama say lie still and wait for glory to consume you." This rousing and visceral quality of spiritual pursuit is also evident in the poem from which the collection takes its name: "Splintered wood seats, carved across with / curses and desperate two-syllabled prayers, / strain to hold the quivering weight of / the devoted and the hard questions poised / by their thirst." In this--as in several of her poems--she places religion within the cold and mundane context of a quotidian existence, the lens through which she seeks to explore life throughout the collection.

Teahouse of the Almighty is a vibrant and passionate meandering through life, its ordinariness magnified to expose its pain and exhilaration. The language is sensual and captures the broken moments of our everyday existence.

Andrea E. Shaw

Nova Southeastern University
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Author:Shaw, Andrea E.
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2007
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