I don’t know Patricia Smith personally, but I do have one of her award-winning books of poetry, Blood Dazzler, and I’ve had the fortunate experience of hearing her read from it. Blood Dazzler is Ms. Smith’s homage to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The poems are haunting, yet beautiful.
As I mentioned in Irene Blair Honeycutt’s post earlier this week, through her literary festival Irene demonstrated the importance of hearing poems read aloud. We can read the words on the page, but when we hear them spoken with the poet’s intonation, rhythm, inflection . . . pauses . . . we feel the emotion carried in those words.
As Ms. Smith explains in her performance, during the flooding by Katrina, 34 patients in a nursing home were left to die. In her poem, 34, she gives a final voice to each one of them. Each verse in the poem is sparse. Seeing it on the page it would be easy to read it quickly and lose some of the impact. But hearing the poem read by Ms. Smith herself, it’s hard to let the words go.
Ms. Smith reading 34