Allow me quickly apologise in advance for this review— I know very little about poetry and guarantee that any poetry enthusiasts with be most unimpressed with my efforts. As it’s my first try, however, I’d appreciate if the aforementioned enthusiasts to be generous in their evaluations. In return, I’ll keep this short and sweet!

On the first day at my internship I told the publishing assistant, Timothy, that I wanted to give some poetry a try, but that I didn’t know where to start. I have no doubt that he immediately sussed me out as being the poetry sceptic that I (regrettably) am, but credit to him, he dug out some collections that he considered manageable for a novice.

He gave me Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, by Patricia Smith.

Testament to how good Timothy is at his job, I loved it.

I think, essentially, that the reason Patricia Smith manages to resonate incredibly well with those of us who aren’t used to reading poetry is that she tells a story. The whole of the book Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah is one long story, starting from the migration of her parents from the southern states up to Chicago right the way through her turbulent upbringing. We see how Smith’s parents had aspirations, fought, had a daughter, and parted ways. Patricia Smith, quickly becoming her own protagonist, then leads us through scenes of her early childhood, pre-pubescence, the agonies of adolescence, and the time spent hovering on the cusp of adulthood.

It’s incredibly interesting, and Patricia Smith is particularly well known for being a poet of colour, the theme of race being central to her work. Beyond this cultural element that makes the content of her work unique, however, Smith’s poetry is fantastic in and of itself.

…This is where I lose the ability to intelligently comment. Read for yourself:

A mere mindset away, there had to be a corner cavern                                                                where dead bluesmen begged second chances from the juke,                                                        and where my mama, perched man-wary on a comfortable stool                                                    by the door, could look like a Christian who was just leaving.

One day she’ll own                                                                                                                                     that quiet heart that Motown taught to speak,                                                                                  she’ll know that being the same makes her unique.                                                                       She’ll worship at the god of microphone                                                                                             until the bass line booms, until some old                                                                                       Temptation leers and says I’ll take you home                                                                                        and heal you in the way the music vowed.


Great, right?

Timothy admitted to me afterwards that he often gives Patricia Smith to poetry novices who need to be eased into the genre. If you feel that you’re in the same boat that I was in, take it from me, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah is a great place to start.

It’s hard to appreciate poetry, it’s hard to concentrate and to care. But for the first time in my life I have a whole bunch of arty friends who not only like poetry, but actively try and read it. Jumping on the bandwagon has never felt so fulfilling.