I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HOW THE LOVE LETTER ENDS.
I have no explanation at all for this, but, in the span of a single year, there will be two events where extraordinary people gather to say nice things about me and my work. This Friday, we’re at Poets House for “A Letter That Begins With I Love You: A Celebration of Patricia Smith,” a title so tender and overwrought that I well up whenever I read it. Then, during the gloriously
unbridled chaos that is AWP, upcoming in Tampa this spring, “Dazzling Jimi: A Tribute to
Patricia Smith” eked its way onto the massive schedule. (I remember the very moment that idea was born—after last year’s AWP celebration of Rita Dove, poetry’s uber-talented bae Danez Smith said
“Mama Patricia, we need to do that for you.”
He calls me Mama Patricia. I love that he calls me Mama Patricia.
When I realized that two celebrations were set to take place within mere months of each other, I rushed to check the obits. Everyone knows that tributes of this sort usually happen only after the honoree has gone on to a better place. I feel fine, but whose to say “fine” isn’t the way heaven or hell feels?
I couldn’t find my full name, date of demise, and gauzy memorial photo anywhere—not in The New York Times (OK, OK, it wouldn’t have been there anyway), not in Poets & Writers, not in even in the “Gone But Not Forgotten” section of my local neighborhood rag here in Jersey. As a final test, I huffed onto a hand mirror. It fogged immediately.
That proves I’m still around, fully able to sniff these copious florals being tossed in my direction. I’m writing this the night before the Poets House event, and I can say that I’m uneasy— thrilled, jittery, more a little overwhelmed. Just think about it—in less than 24 hours, a stellar group of writers will convene for the sole purpose of focusing on me—reading my poems aloud, saying things that will make me feel feelings. That’s pretty scary.
What stellar people, you ask?
Terrance Friggin’ Hayes, who stay busy, shifting the sonnet on its pristine little axis. The original feral bitch, Rachel McKibbens. Kentucky’s miracle Ellen Hagan. Cornelius Eady, Cave Canem co-founder and world-class singer/songwriter. Nicole Sealey, whose new book is emerging as the beast I always knew it was. You need to get it. Revelatory memoirist Randall Horton. Rachel Eliza Griffiths, mistress of the fiercely worked stanza, and everybody’s official photog. Pulitzer awardee and CUNY colleague Tyehimba Jess, the brilliance behind Olio. Mo Browne, the ultimate and forever purveyor of Black Girl Magic. Leslie Shipman, who’s leaping off a pretty beautiful cliff right now. And Parneshia Jones, the editor who just can’t stop changing my life.
All of them. All in one room.
These are people whose work I read and re-read, people whose poems devastate and galvanize me, poets who refuse to let me rest. They constantly provoke me, shove me forward, and they’ve got no patience at all for the half-ass.
And somewhere, at some time, I wrote something each one of them remembered.