One of the most magnetic and esteemed poets in today’s literary landscape, Patricia Smith fearlessly confronts the tyranny against the black male body and the tenacious grief of mothers in her compelling new collection, Incendiary Art. She writes an exhaustive lament for mothers of the "dark magicians," and revisits the devastating murder of Emmett Till. These dynamic sequences serve as a backdrop for present-day racial calamities and calls for resistance. Smith embraces elaborate and eloquent language— "her gorgeous fallen son a horrid hidden / rot. Her tiny hand starts crushing roses—one by one / by one she wrecks the casket’s spray. It’s how she / mourns—a mother, still, despite the roar of thorns"— as she sharpens her unerring focus on incidents of national mayhem and mourning. Smith envisions, reenvisions, and ultimately reinvents the role of witness with an incendiary fusion of forms, including prose poems, ghazals, sestinas, and sonnets. With poems impossible to turn away from, one of America’s most electrifying writers reveals what is frightening, and what is revelatory, about history.
"Smith exhibits razor-sharp linguistic sensibilities that give her scenes a cinematic flair and her lines a momentum that buoys their emotional weight. This is best captured in 'Elegy,' a stunning, long-lined poem about her thick-as-thieves relationship with her father, who found it difficult to be his wife’s 'sky and root.' Smith’s urgent collection lives up to its title, burning bright and urgent as a bonfire." —Publishers Weekly
“Patricia Smith’s moving collection of elegies combines the act of witness with the delights of lyric poetry, intervening with master narratives of history, or sociology, to rescue the suffering subject. The rich sonic texture of the work enables the subtle modulations of mordant wit, anger, and grief throughout the collection, where feeling is tuned by assonance and consonance.” —Averill Curdy, editor, The Longman Anthology of Poetry
“Incendiary Art is the fire this time. An epic in five movements where history becomes tragedy, becomes farce, becomes fable. Where the reader becomes complicit, where outcomes burn into forgotten memories, and where nobody gets off the hook.” —Marlon James
“As with Smith’s previous books, one encounters an urgent voice on the page that is exuberant, sharp, and questing in its search for understanding of the fatalities that besiege black life in America. The imaginative qualities of these poems and others are what make them captivating. She is a poet of immense originality, and these poems are a testament to her powers.” —Major Jackson, author of Roll Deep and Leaving Saturn: Poems
“Patricia Smith is a masterful poet, performer, and pundit. And while her chosen field is the form and grace of language, her gift to the world that orbits the Black experience is truth. This truth contains three extraordinary moments: (1) she conceives history in a way that deftly removes the chaff of lies; (2) seeing this history we know, or at least have the possibility of knowing, who and what we are; and (3) by taking us beyond America’s ahistorical tendencies the book gives us, many for the first time, a chance to imagine a future that includes our flaws and our potentials, all the while balancing the accounts of tragedy.” —Walter Mosley
—Natasha Trethewey, author of Thrall: Poems