To create this startling collection poet and Princeton professor Patricia Smith used her personal collection of 19th century photographs of African Americans as prompts for poems ranging from erotic to mundane. The pairing of the two mediums explodes the remove people sometimes feel when looking at black and white portraits so the subjects feel wholly real and timeless. A great read for National Poetry Month!— From Sam's Picks
This poetry book contains many antique pictures of Black Americans ranging from the 18th-early 20th century, with poetic monologues alongside them. Names aren't given, but Smith doesn't need that; each picture has it's own unique presence and feels as if we are looking through an unnamed family photo album. No poem is the same; the way Smith is able to bounce between joy, sorrow, peace and other emotional states helps ease us into the photos and feel as if this is a conversation we are just now getting into. Raw yet strong, this book is perfect for poetry lovers or those new to the genre.— From Hilton's Picks
An award-winning author presents a portrait of Black America in the nineteenth century
Over the course of two decades, award-winning poet Patricia Smith has amassed a collection of rare nineteenth-century photographs of Black men, women, and children who, in these pages, regard us from the staggering distance of time.
Unshuttered is a vessel for the voices of their incendiary and critical era. Smith’s searing stanzas and revelatory language imbue the subjects of the photos with dynamism and revived urgency while she explores how her own past of triumphs and losses is linked inextricably to their long-ago lives:
We ache for fiction etched in black and white. Our eyes never touch. These tragic grays and bustles, mourners’
hats plopped high upon our tamed but tangled crowns, strain to disguise what yearning does with us.
The poet’s unrivaled dexterity with dramatic monologue and poetic form reanimates these countenances, staring back from such yesterdays, and the stories they may have told. This is one of American literature’s finest wordsmiths doing what she does best—unreeling history to find its fierce and formidable lyric.
About the Author
Winner of the 2024 Fuller Award
Winner of the 2023 Aiken Taylor Award
PATRICIA SMITH, winner of the 2021 Poetry Foundation Ruth Lilly Award for Lifetime Achievement, is the author of eight critically acknowledged volumes of poetry, including Incendiary Art (TriQuarterly Books), winner of the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in the poetry category, and finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; in 2008, her book Blood Dazzler was a finalist for the National Book Award. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Civitella Ranieri Fellow, a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient, a finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, Smith is a distinguished professor at the City University of New York and visiting professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University.
PRAISE FOR PATRICIA SMITH
“Her work is always timely, powerful, necessary, and at turns heartbreaking.” —Natasha Trethewey, author of Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir
“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.” —Walter Mosley, author of The Awkward Black Man: Stories
“Over the course of her career, Patricia Smith has a reputation for tackling complicated ideas, combining humor and tragedy, and bridging the gap between spoken word and lyrical prose.” —Alex Dueben, The Millions
“A great stage performer and a former national slam poetry champion, Smith is also a performer on the page.” —John S. O’Connor, Harvard Review
“Smith has a way of shining light into the darkness with a necessary and timely tongue of fire, challenging readers to open their eyes and face the truth.” —Kathryn de Lancellotti, The Bind
“This is an affecting, lyrical work of empathy and imagination complemented by stunning images.” —starred review, Publishers Weekly
“With tender precision, Smith’s exquisite photo album elucidates our past and steers us toward a more conscious and ethical future.” —starred review, Booklist
“As ever, Smith expands our definitions of what poetry is, masterfully incorporating multiple senses and perspectives. This invocation across time is at the heart of a collection by a poet at the height of her abilities.” —Mandana Chaffa, Chicago Review of Books