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Close to Death: Poems Paperback – June 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"A daughter who grew to write screams / can't bring you back," Smith writes about her murdered father. In another admittedly autobiographical poem, she describes her teenage son witnessing the murder of his friend. Fueled by passion and a sense of urgency, many of the pieces here meet the promise of Smith's ( Big Towns, Big Talk ) two previous collections. Her acute ear for the intricacies of speech adds vitality to poems written in the voices of black men she encounters amid the inner-city squalor of Chicago and Boston: the homeless man outside the hospital, the undertaker who hardens himself to mothers' requests to make up their dead sons' faces to resemble their recent high school photos. Less successful are monologues by Little Richard, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson and other black celebrities, with the exception of three pieces that use Smokey Robinson and his music as a metaphor for personal exploration--the 13-year-old sneaking into an older boy's party and dancing as Smokey sings; the adult standing in the crowd waiting for Smokey's autograph: "and Smokey not even looking as he wrote it." Memorable as poems in their own right, these three portraits of the female speaker's journey to adulthood also bridge the gap between the stage and the street. Ironic depictions of the poet's own black culture as she imagines it perceived by whites contribute a welcome note of levity.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

"I get this feeling/ we in some kinda fishbowl. Everybody looking, but nobody/ care when that fish start floating on top. Don't bother me/ that we're expected to die. Everybody expected to die./ What bothers me is that nobody cares if we do." Young black men in the cities have taken to wearing clothes with the cryptic message "C2D"--Close to Death--because, as they see it, so many of them are. Smith's poems give voice to the torment, frustration, and pain so real to these young hostages to a time and place where the odds weigh heavily against them. Homicide, drug abuse, and AIDS have spawned a generation of callous young men. But more than resignation haunts these poems. These voices of sons, brothers, lovers, and fathers are strong, passionate, and fearless. Souls rage from the hellfire of the streets, and Smith effectively captures the language and urgency, the rhythms and fury. She understands the redemptive power of humor and the saving grace of each barb traded on the street corners. In these lines there is even a hint of hope. Recommended.
- Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Steerforth; 1 edition (June 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0944072356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0944072356
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,239,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Patricia Smith is the author of five volumes of poetry, including Blood Dazzler, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, Teahouse of the Almighty, a National Poetry Series selection, and Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah. A professor for the City University of New York and a Cave Canem faculty member, she lives in New Jersey with her husband, Edgar Award-winning novelist Bruce DeSilva, her granddaughter Mikaila, and two humungous dogs, Brady and Rondo.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Erren Geraud Kelly on January 24, 2001
Format: Paperback
first saw her read at the gathering of poets festival at louisiana state university at baton rouge many years ago..she recited her stuff from memory without a mike and just came at the audience hard...some of her poems read like stories..her voice can be soft as rose petals or echo the throb of african drums...also get her book life according to motown
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jeff on October 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book of poetry by one of the best Slam poets has a way of shaking the complacency of so much that passes for poetry, from stale imitators of the Beats to the constipated stasis of High-Modernists. Smith's eminence in the Academy of American Poets is well earned; her verse delivers, and will never disappoint.
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Format: Paperback
"Homicide, drug abuse, and AIDS-related deaths have forced black male life expectancy into a steady decline. In New York City, black males have long been considered expendable." While these words (found on the back of the collection)read much like a documentary, Smith's book offers a more personal reflection on the lives and fears of young African American men growing up in New York City. Her collection forces readers to come to terms with the devastating reality of growing up "close to death." Both literally and figuratively, young African Americans live in this state. Whether it be close to those who have died, or close to situations which have put them in harm, the people in Smith's poetry are defined as not being able to escape death, ever.
Broken into four sections ("Close," "Closer," "Closest," and "Closed"), the collection moves readers through a chronological truth which many African American youth face. The final section, "Closed," speaks exclusively to the deaths Smith has experienced over her life. For her, as defined by the sections of the collection, she herself has been as close to death as those she depicts in her poetry.
The sadness of the poems results in the idea that African American youth tends to constantly feel death's hand upon their shoulder. In her poem "CRIPtic Comment," Smith's limited words mirror the feelings associated with some: "If we are not shooting / at someone, / then no one / can see us." Mirroring this thought, is her poem "Always in the Head." The speaker's position as a reporter defines his or her life as "too real." Unlike the separation one feels from tragic situations shown on the television news stories, Smith's collection, and the stance of the speakers in the poems, offers readers a chance to witness life as it really is for the youth who are constantly "close to death."
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