cover image Unshuttered


Patricia Smith. TriQuarterly, $28 (120p) ISBN 978-0-8101-4563-4

In her evocative latest, Smith (Incendiary Art) combines photographs of Black Americans taken in the 19th century with poems written from the perspective of each image’s subject to construct a wrenching tapestry of the effects of enslavement and promises of Reconstruction. A profile photo of a woman with bright eyes is accompanied by a poem describing her freedom to walk down the street, as her mother could not: “I am not my mother, squatting howler whose/ body spat a squalling into dust.” One woman mourns her brother, a victim of a lynch mob, while another grieves her son with a devastating, unbridled lament: “I wept wide/ like an opened cage. I cried whole lying Bibles,/ screeched the backsides of hymns.” Elsewhere, a smiling woman contemplates how the picture she is posing for might attract suitors: “This portrait should engage/ the interest of some decorous and cultivated gent/ accustomed to the ways of wooing.” The poems are keenly multifaceted, as Smith considers her subjects’ possible grief, shame, sexuality and gender identity, and joy in everyday moments. This is an affecting, lyrical work of empathy and imagination complemented by stunning images. (Feb).