Incendiary Art: Poems (Paperback)
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.
About the Author
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.
"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
"A tour de force at double the length of an expected poetry volume, Incendiary Artis bound to be one of this year’s most vital and devastating books, where Smith’s historical sweep, moral invective, and lyrical mastery speak truth to power and render these trying times unflinchingly... These stirring poems will make any reader shudder, weep, and strive for an America that finally regards all of its citizens, to borrow Malcolm X’s phrase, as righteous human beings." —Plume
"Patricia is one of the poets writing today that I most deeply admire. Her work is always timely, powerful, necessary, and at turns heartbreaking."
—Natasha Trethewey, author of Thrall: Poems
"It’s a book of violence, outrage, grief, despair, a book about racism, that generalization we never stop packing with the lives that we destroy... a book of terrible beauty, opulent brutality, immersed in the contradictions that kindle in and around and in reaction to black lives and deaths. It’s hard to imagine art changing anything the book describes—hard to imagine it forestalling the next of these murders or undermining the state’s ability to explain away the next all-too-explainable killing of someone young and brown—but that impossibility makes these poems more compelling..." —The Kenyon Review
"Smith's new book is possibly her best work to date." —The Millions