Incendiary Art

If there were any question whether Patricia Smith (Blood Dazzler) is one of the best poets working in the United States today, her powerful collection Incendiary Art answers with the full force of veritable genius.

Rooted in the contemporary African American experience and revolving around historical incidents of violence against black men and black children, Incendiary Art sets the conscience on fire. Smith employs a dazzling array of poetic forms--from the formal sonnet to the free-flowing prose poem--and an arsenal of stark and sublime images to convey the perspectives of countless victims of police brutality and racial violence. Victims and their family members get a voice in these poems--and at one point, in a brilliant twist, the gun used in a crime does, too. Smith leaves no angle overlooked, no point of view forgotten, in what becomes a thoroughly moving, multifaceted reckoning of recent history.

Yet as much as physical violence plays a central role in this collection, Smith explores the cold spaces of loss to discover warmth, human affection and some recognizable form of grace. In "Elegy," a 10-page prose poem, she searches the legacy of her murdered father and finds an almost irrational, abiding love, one that "breaks and breaks and rearranges," born of little more than "your sweet inability to put me down." Even in this most personal of poems, Smith has a way of imbuing lines with historical significance. She imagines her own infant body as "holding/ the whole promise of north in your grasp." --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist and fiction author

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