Jul 11, 2020
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Patricia Smith won the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Courtesy of Fresno State.

Slam poet, Pulitzer finalist performs at reading series

Pulitzer Prize finalist Patricia Smith nearly filled the Alice Peters Auditorium March 5 for her poetry reading hosted by Fresno State’s MFA program.

At the Spring Reading Series, Smith read and performed seven poems.

She began with a poem she wrote as an example for her poetry students. The poem titled “Thirteen” is about being 13 years old. It includes stanzas about the speaker’s first menstrual cycle and the awkward transition of being a girl who desperately wants to be a woman.

A line from that poem boasts that with her blue eyeshadow and platform heels she looked like “a blind streetwalker bursting from a cocoon.”

Smith calls her poems stories. When she has a story she wants to tell, Smith finds the best way to tell it, without being worried about iambic pentameter and other poetry rules, Smith said.

“All I care about is your story, and it doesn’t have to have a happy ending,” said Smith. “It just has to be yours. You are charged with the telling of your own story.”

She read a poem about being in Bronx, New York, on President Barack Obama’s inauguration day and gave a comedic recitation spoken from the perspective of a black barber she used to take her son to in Chicago.

Smith is lively and charismatic. She joked about how she had 8-minute introductions for 1-minute poems.

In between some of the readings she pulled off her earrings and said to the women of the audience, “You know when you wear earrings all day, then suddenly you feel them?” The laughter from the audience confirmed they did.

Following the readings Smith answered some questions about what it was like growing up in Chicago, starting out as a slam poet and what has changed now that she is a prize-winning poet.

Her latest poetry collection titled “Incendiary Art,” won the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the 2018 NAACP Image Award, a 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

The event ran a total of about two hours, with refreshments and book signings after.

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