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Nov. 2011 Poetry for the Departed

Last year, at one of our poetry workshops at the Brockton Public Library Poetry Series, a young woman had brought in a poem she had written about a woman whose mother had died.  I felt unable to connect with the poem because there was no description of the mother; nothing about soft eyes and gentle hands, no stories about the good times or the bad times, no cherished memories of being handed down a family heirloom, etc.  I immediately thought of the poems Patricia Smith wrote about her family, in particular the poems about her father.  Like Martín Espada, Smith has been a very key inspiration and influence for me because she writes poems that appeal to the novice poetry reader as well as the avid poetry reader.  So when the workshop facilitator asked for us to offer constructive criticism, I said to the poet, “I get how the speaker of the poem feels about her loss, but after I’m done reading it, I don’t feel like I know her mother.  Tell us more about her.  What was their relationship like?”  I also suggested she read Smith’s poems as models for adding specific details to offer a more vivid portrait of the mother.   READ MORE