Jeffrey, that was a wonderful intro for D.A. I wish I could have been there.

And I'm going to try to tell you the short but riveting tale of someone who I was assigned to introduce but didn't, for a reason that had nothing at all to do with my reluctance and unwillingness to introduce her, but should have.

Perhaps this is a tale of language poetry, which is sort of a sweeping term for a genre I have trouble connecting to but didn't really realize I had trouble connecting to until I was asked to introduce this person, who is a really big deal as a language poet, so I did what anyone else would have done--with no preconceived notion on my part, actually with a hefty dose of intellectual and creative curiosity, I looked her up. And yes, she was very important, actually vital, to the genre, but when I immersed myself in her work, it was like reading the inside of a machine. Lots of fragments and surprise! capitalization and some numbers in the middle of words and allusions to shadowy secretive things I would have known about if I'd known about them. At this point, I suggested someone else introduce her but that was not possible.

Then, great news! I heard that she was reading in NYC, and I thought: I will go and see and hear and talk with this person, and revelation will ensue. She will explain to me the shadowy and secretive things, and maybe even the numbers. I will be enlightened, and I will be able to introduce her adequately, maybe even excitedly, when the time comes. So I went to the reading.

And I listened. And I did not connect. And I did not understand.

I looked forward to the conversation, which I hoped would clarify things, but she was surrounded by people dressed in black--or actually the shade that's blacker than black, if that's possible-- who did not want me to talk to her once they realized I was not an unquestioning believer. If you are meant to know, you know their eyes said. They actually formed a protective barrier around said poet, even at dinner after the reading. I enjoyed my pasta.

And although I had no proof, I began to suspect that the fragments and numbers in the middle of words and shadowy secretive things were just desperate gestures, little bells and whistles, and that anyone who got too close would be able to see that so the whole point was not letting anyone get too close. I decided that I would say that during the introduction. In a nice way.

But alas, an illness kept the famous language poet away from the event, and although I did not get to introduce her I did get to engage in a blistering little debate based on my newly-forged theory about the emperor's new words.

Good to see/hear you on here, McD. How's that sweet little daughter of yours?

Originally Published: April 18th, 2011

Patricia Smith has been called “a testament to the power of words to change lives.” She is the author of seven books of poetry, including Incendiary Art (2017); Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (2012), which won the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Blood Dazzler (2008), a chronicle...