Teahouse of the Almighty

“Smith appears to be that rarest of creatures, a charismatic slam and performance poet whose artistry truly survives on the printed page. Present at the creation of the slam in early-’80s Chicago and included in seminal films and anthologies, Smith (Big Towns, Big Talk, 1992) receded from the scene in recent years after her career as a newspaper journalist ended in scandal. This National Poetry Series–winning volume marks a triumphal return, showing an energetic writer with four urgent subjects. She depicts endangered children. She celebrates sex and sexuality, from the public display of celebrities to the power of the female orgasm: ‘Don’t hate me because I’m multiple.’ She considers the heritage of black American art, in musical performance and in writing. Finally, she describes the experience of performance itself, with all its pride and embarrassment: ‘Angry, jubilant, weeping poets… we are all/ saviors, reluctant hosannas in the limelight.’ Several poems also animate the troubled lives of famous blues singers; elsewhere, a mother considers how her incarcerated son became a ‘jailhouse scribe.’ A superb variety of lines and forms—short and long, hesitant and rapid-fire—gives the book additional depth. Smith even offers fine advice: ‘Breathe/ like your living depends on it.'” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Selected by

Edward Sanders