In minute by minute detail, Patricia Smith tracks Hurricane Katrina as it transforms into a full blown mistress of destruction From August the day Tropical Depression Twelve developed, through Augustwhen it became a Category Five storm with its scarlet glare fixed on the trembling crescent, to the heartbreaking aftermath, these poems evoke the horror that unfolded in New Orleans as America watched it on televisionAssuming the voices of flailing politicians, the dying, their survivors, and the voice of the hurricane itself, Smith follows the woefully inadequate relief effort and stands witness to families held captive on rooftops and in the Superdome She gives voice to the thirty four nursing home residents who drowned in St Bernard Parish and recalls the day after their deaths when George W Bush accompanied country singer Mark Willis on guitar The cowboy grins through the terrible din, And in the Ninth, a choking woman wailsLook like this country done left us for deadAn unforgettable reminder that poetry can still be news that stays news, Blood Dazzler is a necessary step toward national healingPatricia Smith is the author of four previous collections of poetry, including Teahouse of the Almighty, winner of the Hurston Wright Legacy Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize A record setting, national poetry slam champion, she was featured in the film Slamnation, on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam, and is a frequent contributor to Harriet, the Poetry Foundation s blog Visit her website at wordwoman


10 thoughts on “Blood Dazzler

  1. Monica Monica says:

    Blood Dazzler articulates a Pastiche of what many would consider to be uncomfortable Truths One of the most emotionally driven accounts of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, Smith s 2008 collection exemplifies the power of the poetic historical Document to intervene on behalf of those whose stories have been dismantled and reconstructed for the purpose of legitimating the prejudices that inform racial stratification The poems work separately and collectively to implicate president Bush in th Blood Dazzler articulates a Pastiche of what many would consider to be uncomfortable Truths One of the most emotionally driven accounts of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, Smith s 2008 collection exemplifies the power of the poetic historical Document to intervene on behalf of those whose stories have been dismantled and reconstructed for the purpose of legitimating the prejudices that inform racial stratification The poems work separately and collectively to implicate president Bush in the fallout and,importantly, address the media s complicity in the re victimization of affected African American citizens Most importantly, even as Smith enumerates the profound and far reaching consequences of the government s racially motivated defection, she troubles the notion of African American survivors as figures emblematic of victimhood To be clear, Smith writes not with knowing complicity in the increase of racial tensions in this country her role here is simply as historian and poet Her collection functions to document the government s knowing complicity in the hundreds of African American deaths that followed the storm Central to understanding the function of this historical document is an understanding of the historian s motives During a 2015 interview with Joseph Ross, Smith discusses the emotional and intellectual center of the collection, explaining that The Role of a storyteller, I think, the primary role is as of witness Smith Moreover, says Smith, Katrina was not just a regional story It was a national story and it was a human story Smith Like many Americans, Smith was astonished and horrified by the images of displaced and abandoned citizens All of a sudden, you re seeing, up close and personal, what your country is capable of Smith In an effort to make the story make sense, Smith She attempted to access the implicit meanings of these mediated texts Sellno through poetry At the time, she felt a responsibility toward emergent generations of thinkers when visiting high schools, she often found that most students were uninformed about Katrina and unaware of its aftermath According to Smith, the poet functions largely to bridge the informational gap between the truth that is made accessible to students in the classroom and the truth which only a poet can articulate I think as long as we can tell these stories, we re basically doing what the history books the history books that go into schools aren t necessarily doing Smith Ultimately, she says, the onus is on the individual More specifically, consumers of meaning must be prepared to grapple with and read below the multivalent language of mediated texts Sellno when you see those stories, it s really up to you to say now let s go see what they re not saying Smith This is because You re always seeing somebody else s truth You re always seeing what has been honed down into manageable soundbites Smith Unfortunately, Smith says, our society is often unwilling to take the time to walk into those stories and see whatever else is there Smith In fact, she explains, There are so many places in the world where people do get the news from what the poets tell them They get the news from the country or the television, and then they say sic what really happened Let s listen to the poets Smith Those who refuse to interrogate the complicated, often problematic narratives that come out of the media are essentially relinquishing their agency by allowing others to do their critical thinking for them we re letting the news control us Smith This, Smith asserts, is why The News cannot be Considered a Reliable Historical Document Ultimately, Smith s collection accomplishes the difficult task of objectively and passionately documenting one of history s most tragic and socio politically complicated events Patricia Smith on Hurricane Katrina and Blood Dazzler YouTube, Uploaded by hocopolitso, 31 Oct, 2014, Deanna D The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture Considering mediated texts Sellno , Sage Publications,2010


  2. Sherry Chandler Sherry Chandler says:

    Right after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I heard an interview with Billy Collins on public radio He was asked about the role of poetry in such a disaster and my memory is that he said something on the order that some disasters are just too big for poetry to handle.One would think that the disaster that Katrina and the Bush Administration imposed upon New Orleans would be another such disaster but Patricia Smith has proven that poetry, at least in her hands, is equal t Right after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I heard an interview with Billy Collins on public radio He was asked about the role of poetry in such a disaster and my memory is that he said something on the order that some disasters are just too big for poetry to handle.One would think that the disaster that Katrina and the Bush Administration imposed upon New Orleans would be another such disaster but Patricia Smith has proven that poetry, at least in her hands, is equal to the task.I think everyone in the United States should read this book.It moves from rant to celebration, from satire to tragedy


  3. Elevate Difference Elevate Difference says:

    In a world full of tragedy, it is easy to feel removed from it, to see it as a distant echo Patricia Smith s collection of poems, Blood Dazzler, breaks through this apathy to bring the full weight of Hurricane Katrina s impact front and center These poems track the storm from its origins to its eventual transformation into a Category 5 storm However, Smith doesn t shy away from the aftermath she is in the muck of this storm from its very start and right on through to its heartbreaking afterm In a world full of tragedy, it is easy to feel removed from it, to see it as a distant echo Patricia Smith s collection of poems, Blood Dazzler, breaks through this apathy to bring the full weight of Hurricane Katrina s impact front and center These poems track the storm from its origins to its eventual transformation into a Category 5 storm However, Smith doesn t shy away from the aftermath she is in the muck of this storm from its very start and right on through to its heartbreaking aftermath.This book isthan a marker for the dead The people in this book don t die they live on well past the rotting of their bodies I dare you to read Smith s poems about Luther B, a dog left tied up during Katrina, without feeling goose bumps Smith allows everyone the chance to speak past the images that still haunt us She writes about the stories we don t always see or experience Ethel Freeman, a woman whose body was left to rot in her wheelchair the thirty four bodies of the men and women left to drown in St Rita s Nursing Home and the nameless who talk about what it s like to leave one s life behind.Smith paints Hurricane Katrina as the black sheep of hurricanes Siblings is a witty alphabet poem that strolls through history s hurricanes and talks about their characteristics The poem ends with Katrina and how none of them talked about Katrina she was their odd sister the blood dazzler As Hurricane Betsy says to Katrina, No nuance Got no whisper in you, do you girl The idea was not to stomp it flat, trina, all you had to do was kiss the land Instead, you roared through like a goddamned man, all biceps The very hurricanes that threaten the land have a chance to speak, have a chance to swing their hips The hurricanes become as much a part of this place as the people and the land itself Smith leaves no rock unturned, no perspective untouched.Smith destroys the idea that tragedy happens to those who are Other, to those who are far away echoes This poet brings the effects of Katrina right up to the reader s nose and blows the sweetest and most sour music towards our hearts To read these poems and not be affected is impossible You will be seared by the grit and spirit of these people, the landscape, and the true force of nature The men and women of New Orleans do not lose their fire, or their humor The rain falls and the people of this world continue to spin their memories and sing from their rooftops while they wait for help that may never come These poems are a true force of nature.Review by Lisa Bower


  4. Natalie Natalie says:

    I heard Patricia Smith perform selections from Blood Dazzler at Sarah Lawrence last summer, and I d wanted to read it ever since She was amazing in person, a true spoken word diva But Blood Dazzler has one crucial flaw every poem in this collection has the same tone Smith clearly writes with an agenda Every poem is about unrelenting destruction, and there s a bitterness that is likely justified What I couldn t get over is the fact that not a single poem engenders a sense of hope I can I heard Patricia Smith perform selections from Blood Dazzler at Sarah Lawrence last summer, and I d wanted to read it ever since She was amazing in person, a true spoken word diva But Blood Dazzler has one crucial flaw every poem in this collection has the same tone Smith clearly writes with an agenda Every poem is about unrelenting destruction, and there s a bitterness that is likely justified What I couldn t get over is the fact that not a single poem engenders a sense of hope I can easily agree that Katrina was an awful, awful tragedy, one which is still being mishandled in some ways, but that is not the total experience of Katrina, and that is where this collection flatlines So many people donated their time, money, and effort to help rebuild after Katrina Some volunteers left their lives behind and moved to New Orleans permanently There is groundbreaking work occuring down there still, and I think Smith misses the mark because she does not include any of this And Smith did not write this so soon after Katrina that she could have failed to realize some of that power, a movement which has become muchpowerful than Katrina the hurricane ever was


  5. Ms. McFaul Ms. McFaul says:

    Watched Spike Lee s documentary When the Levees Broke parts 1 2 before reading this Just powerful Sadness for the way we have not changed and our inept government Tears and sobbing for the lives lost and stories told and untold Smith gives a voice to a few, but there are so manythat were lost Watched Spike Lee s documentary When the Levees Broke parts 1 2 before reading this Just powerful Sadness for the way we have not changed and our inept government Tears and sobbing for the lives lost and stories told and untold Smith gives a voice to a few, but there are so manythat were lost


  6. Julene Julene says:

    Patricia Smith enters into the voice of New Orleans in her opening prologue And Then She Owns You this is a haunting percursor to this series of poems about Katrina In third person persona the city of New Orleans tells you leave your life Pack your little suitcase, flee what is rigid Then she enters into the meat of the pre storm using National Hurricane reports, an email message to Michael Brown, the whereabouts of President Bush in her epigraphs Her book is a storm itself giving voice Patricia Smith enters into the voice of New Orleans in her opening prologue And Then She Owns You this is a haunting percursor to this series of poems about Katrina In third person persona the city of New Orleans tells you leave your life Pack your little suitcase, flee what is rigid Then she enters into the meat of the pre storm using National Hurricane reports, an email message to Michael Brown, the whereabouts of President Bush in her epigraphs Her book is a storm itself giving voice to Katrina itself, I was bitch monikered, hipped, I hefted a whip rain, a swirling sheet of grit The eye of this category 5 hurricane overtakes us in this book with her relentless details We watch with growing trepidation the dog, Luther B, tied to a tree left behind he returns through his owner considering him, Bet he done broke lose Then to his personified voice, until he ascends, smashed level with the mud, smalled by roaring days, and a sky he trusted, There are poems for Voodoo Spells 1 through 8, from Love and Passion to Spiritual Cleansing and Blessing This reinactment of Katrina unveils multitudes with raw emotion We ve heard about those who died in the nursing home, here we lie with them as the water rises We ve seen the photos of this water logged city, now we enter through our heart, Patricia s words take us into the eye and toss us, opening our hearts wide I hope her words will help mobilize our energies to voice a demand to stop what Naomi Klein understands as diaster economics or politics that equals ethnic cleansing


  7. Tristan Tristan says:

    This book was positively phenomenal Every word was chosen carefully and perfectly placed The collection sings of the pain and glory of Katrina, the way that majesty can bedestruction than invention andabout what doesn t live through it than what survives untouched Smith gives voice to the storm The difference in a given name What the calling, the hard K,does to the steel of me, how suddenly and surely it grants me pulse, petulance She listens to a dog dead in the water, lets This book was positively phenomenal Every word was chosen carefully and perfectly placed The collection sings of the pain and glory of Katrina, the way that majesty can bedestruction than invention andabout what doesn t live through it than what survives untouched Smith gives voice to the storm The difference in a given name What the calling, the hard K,does to the steel of me, how suddenly and surely it grants me pulse, petulance She listens to a dog dead in the water, lets a tired old woman speak of the glory of her own drowing into the arms of angels, dramtizes the national indifference that appeared on the heels of this disaster.The use of form is expertly done, with a gorgeous sestina He wipes my brow with steam, says I should sleep I trust his every word Herbert my son I believe him when he says help gon come , a fantastic series of tankas, and the brilliant incorporation of primary sources inmy favorite poem What to Tweak The book is both a group of individual poems and a single vast song Each poem moves seamlessly into the next, creating a work mucheffective than it s component parts One final excerpt from 34 8 When help comes,it will be young men smelling like cigarettes and Chevys,muscles boys with autumn breath and steel basketsjust the right size for our souls.To save us, they will rub our gums with hard bread.They will offer uswater


  8. Janet Janet says:

    I saw her read here in LA in a night at the Getty, and had to buy her book What a gorgeous gorgeous poet, passionate, exact This book is all about Hurricane Katrina, and she can be both the hurricane itself, and a dog left chained to a tree, and everything in between It s exactly the kind of intense condensation of feeling and fact that makes poetry the news that s always new You can see why this was nominated for the National Book Award Brilliant Patricia Smith has a fan for life.


  9. Kat Saunders Kat Saunders says:

    I found much to admire, especially in terms of form in this collection However, I was hoping the collection would teach me or articulate something new about Katrina and its aftermath I grew up in New Orleans and the storm displaced my relatives maybe I knowthan the average reader would That said, even within the collection, I saw repetition when I longed to consider the storm in a way I hadn t yet.


  10. Renee Christopher Renee Christopher says:

    I loved this collection hurricane as woman, the inclusion of Betsy, the focus on place and actual people Naming and voodoo sections were my favorites This was the first Smith I read but it won t be the last.