By Jayney Sechler
April 2nd, 2018 was the day that Saint Petersburg College (SPC) of Clearwater had been waiting for. On this day, a famous award-winning poet would make an appearance that would kick off the very first event in the new SPC Clearwater Campus Library. Traveling all the way across the country to perform a poetry reading, SPC was fortunate to have the one and only Patricia Smith visit the Clearwater Campus.
SPC Clearwater composition instructor, Professor Byrd, introduced Mrs. Smith’s many outstanding professional accomplishments. Some of Smith’s achievements include the National Poetry Series Award, Lenore Marshall Prize, the National Book Award, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and most notably, her four-time individual National Poetry Slam championships. While Smith was a presence from the moment she walked in, nothing prepared the audience for the humorous and captivating woman who took the stage.
Ongoing applause filled the auditorium as Smith walked up to take the microphone. Her calm voice added comfort and enthusiasm in the room. After Smith introduced herself, there was a quiet pause. “I never prepare before any readings what I am going to read. I get up here, look at everyone and read what you look like you want to hear and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad.” Laughter and shock filled the room.
As Smith began reading her poetry, the themes consisted of a wide range, from the Renaissance to humor to sex. When Smith reads her poems, not only do the words move the audience, but Smith also puts herself in character. Smith related to the college audience by incorporating her perspectives on the cartoon show, Tom and Jerry and the familiar movie, Clash of the Titans; Smith’s Medusa voice is perfect. The audience laughed away as she read and performed her versions of the cartoon and movie.
Before Smith came to the event, attendees were mainly students who were rambling about how they were forced to be there by their composition and writing classes. The audience was expecting a long and tedious poetry reading, but what followed was anything but boring. Ashley Brown, a SPC Student, like many other students in attendance, readily admitted she was only there to meet a composition class requirement. Not expecting what was ahead, Brown said, “I’d rather be here than in a classroom.” By observing the attendance of the people who stayed after the event, Brown and many others quickly changed their mind. “I’m glad that Professor Bryd required us to come; I learned a lot about poetry and enjoyed the event,” Brown subsequently said. Initially, many students thought the event would be boring and tedious rather than funny and exciting.
As the poetry began to wind down, the majority of the audience stayed, even though their class had ended. Refreshments and cookies were passed out for those who stayed the whole duration.
One of the best parts was that attendees could purchase some of Smith’s books and get it signed by Smith herself. Smith autographed copies of her books and chatted easily with the audience following the event. Luz Morales, a SPC Tarpon Campus student, excitedly waited in line to get an autographed book for her mother who is a huge Smith fan. “I cannot wait to give it to her for her birthday, she is going to love it,” Morales says.
What a great way to start off the events that are yet to come. Patricia Smith’s words came alive in a way that engaged many SPC students and the administrative audience. Not many serious renowned poets can weave Tom and Jerry and Clash of the Titans into a poetry reading that won over the audience. Smith is truly something special. It was a privilege for Saint Petersburg College of Clearwater to have her.