Teahouse of the Almighty.
The last time I ate hot-water cornbread, my great-grandmother was still alive and complaining about the stench the burn of the bread made. I had not remembered her cooking hot-water cornbread nor could I easily draw her into my memory until I read Patricia Smith's poem "When the Burning Begins" from her collection Teahouse of the Almighty. Smith, a 2005 National Poetry Series winner, is a storyteller in the truest sense. Her poems--although personal--allow readers to enter through our own recollections of shared experiences, desires and grievances.
What works best in this collection is the multiplicity of voice through which Smith exists as teacher, daughter, commentator and voyeur--often at the same time. In "When the Burning Begins," Smith writes: "Mix it till it looks like quicksand, he'd say. / Till it moves like a slow song sounds." Smith's poems capture the reader, pulls him into the very story they reveal. And in the beauty and sometimes horror of it all, they sound honeyed with "slow song sounds."
In poems such as "Building Nicole's Mama," "Boy Dies, Girlfriend Gets His Heart" and "Scribe," Smith plays with her readers sensibilities; there are well-orchestrated line breaks, the movements that occur in prose poems and the tension that is created between telling too much and not enough. But what the reader hears is the measure of Smith's work, which is nothing short of the same furious thunder Coltrane used to play--dramatic, harsh, melodic but always recognizable.
Lauri A. Conner is a poet and educator living in Seattle, Washington.
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|Author:||Conner, Lauri A.|
|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2007|
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