Close to Death: Poems

Patricia Smith, Author Zoland Books $15 (128p) ISBN 978-0-944072-35-6
``A daughter who grew to write screams / can't bring you back,'' Smith writes about her murdered father. In another admittedly autobiographical poem, she describes her teenage son witnessing the murder of his friend. Fueled by passion and a sense of urgency, many of the pieces here meet the promise of Smith's ( Big Towns, Big Talk ) two previous collections. Her acute ear for the intricacies of speech adds vitality to poems written in the voices of black men she encounters amid the inner-city squalor of Chicago and Boston: the homeless man outside the hospital, the undertaker who hardens himself to mothers' requests to make up their dead sons' faces to resemble their recent high school photos. Less successful are monologues by Little Richard, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson and other black celebrities, with the exception of three pieces that use Smokey Robinson and his music as a metaphor for personal exploration--the 13-year-old sneaking into an older boy's party and dancing as Smokey sings; the adult standing in the crowd waiting for Smokey's autograph: ``and Smokey not even looking as he wrote it.'' Memorable as poems in their own right, these three portraits of the female speaker's journey to adulthood also bridge the gap between the stage and the street. Ironic depictions of the poet's own black culture as she imagines it perceived by whites contribute a welcome note of levity. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
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