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Poet Patricia Smith On Storytelling In A Controlled Space

<p>Poet Patricia Smith</p>
Patricia Smith

Poet Patricia Smith

On Saturday, August 27, the poet laureate’s office under the direction of Bruce Isaacson continues its “Clark County Poets of National Stature” Reading Series.

There'll be two events featuring poet Patricia Smith

Patricia Smith teaches creative writing at the City University of New York/College of Staten Island, and teaches in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, near Lake Tahoe.

Her most recent book is, “Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah." It was the winner of the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the 2014 Rebekah Bobbitt Prize. 

Dave Becker with KNPR's State of Nevada talked with Patricia Smith in advance of her Nevada visit.


On her favorite thing about being a poet:

My favorite thing about being a poet is you can take huge, unwieldy stories and put them in tight, controlled spaces. And to me, that's the essence of storytelling.

On the difficulty of getting those stories in tight places:

I'm always telling other faculty members that we are the most talented writers because when you right a poem every single word has to do work. You don't have time to meander. You don't have time to throat clear. 

My poetry is always heavily narrative. I could easily take one of my poems and turn it into a short story or a play.

On her book "Blood Dazzler":

The role of a poet is a witness. When Hurricane Katrina happened, I'm not from the Gulf region. I don't have any history in the Gulf region. So, I was receiving that event the same way most people were as they were reading about it and on television. 

There was one event initially that I really wanted to write about. It kept coming back to me and when you can't shake something that is a sure sign that you should be writing about it. And it was the 34 nursing home residents who were left behind and died. 

And trying to make that event make sense in anyway shape or form, anything I try to make sense of, I write about it.

Before I knew it, I had probably about 12 or 13 poems and then I realized what I needed to do is keep writing. Eventually, that became the book "Blood Dazzler."

On what the term "Blood Dazzler" means:

In the poem, "Siblings: Hurricanes 2005,"I worked it all the way down to the end and I got to the line "she was their odd sister" and I didn't have a title for the book. I was thinking I would go back through the book and I would find a phrase from another poem. I put the term "blood dazzler" in because it sounded cool and I put it in as a place holder.

By the time, I was ready to title the book. I read through the whole manuscript and I got to this I think the penultimate poem and I looked at the place holder and went 'mmm, I think I may have written my way into that title.'

On "Blood Dazzler" really being on large poem:

When you're writing about an event and the poems are more or less in chronological order. They start with a tropical depression that slowly grows into Katrina. Everything else has a narrative arc to it. I have to think of it not as a single poem. I think of it as a single story. 

Patricia Smith, New Jersey-based poet

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.