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Incendiary Art

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Winner, 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Finalist, 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Winner, NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in the Poetry category
Winner, 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award
Winner, 2018 BCALA Best Poetry Award
Winner, Abel Meeropol Award for Social Justice
Finalist, Neustadt International Prize for Literature
Winner, 2021 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

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.

ISBN-13: 9780810134331

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Northwestern University Press

Publication Date: 02-15-2017

Pages: 144

Product Dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

PATRICIA SMITH is a National Book Award finalist (2008) and the author of six critically acknowledged volumes of poetry. Her awards and honors include the 2014 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize from the Library of Congress, the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and a 2013 Phillis Wheatley Book Award. A formidable performer, Smith has read her work at venues all over the United States and around the world. She is a Cave Canem faculty member, an associate professor of English at CUNY/College of Staten Island, and a faculty member in the Sierra Nevada College M.F.A. program.

Table of Contents


That Chile Emmett in That Casket
Enigma of the Shadowbox Swine
Incendiary Art
Emmett Till: Choose Your Own Adventure
The Then Where 11 Incendiary Art: Chicago, 1968
Reemergence of the Noose
Emmett Till: Choose Your Own Adventure
Incendiary Art: Birmingham, 1963
10-year-old shot three times, but she’s fine
Emmett Till: Choose Your Own Adventure
Hey, who you got in here?
Incendiary Art: Los Angeles, 1992
Black, Poured Directly Into the Wound
No Wound of Exit

See What Happens When You Don’t Be Careful
Incendiary Art: Ferguson, 2015
Emmett Till: Choose Your Own Adventure

II. When Black Men Drown Their Daughters
The Five Stages of Drowning
Why the Verdict Just Don’t Sound Right
Meanwhile the Mother
When Black Men Drown Their Daughters

III. Accidental
Sagas of the Accidental Saint
IV: Shooting Into the Mirror
The First 23 Minutes of the First Day Without
And He Stays Dead
Emmett Till: Choose Your Own Adventure