Interview With Patricia Smith

I loved the idea of a blank canvas everyday and I cherished the opportunity to create worlds and people to inhabit those worlds.

 What advice do you wish you had gotten as a teen?

       I wish I had been told that I was not alone. Every experience feels so stark and solitary when you're a teenager--until you realize that you're part of a community, that loneliness and isolation and uncertainty come with the territory.

Tell us about a time when you were brave, or bravery was required of you, or you saw someone else being brave.

       It feels strange to call this bravery. But when my teenage son fathered a child, and I discovered that the mother of that child was involved in drug and gang culture--and that her lack of parenting skills endangered the child--I decided my life was about to take an unexpected turn. I took Mikaila into my home and raised her as my own. The process involved contentious court dates, days of doubt, and questions about whether I was doing the right thing. Now I know that it was exactly the right thing. Mikaila is now in her freshman year of college.

How do you start a poem? Give us a window into your process.

       I can't think of a finite moment when I "start" a poem -- they seems to be starting all the time. Ideas meld and transform, random lines come to me at odd times, the Muse whispers, then screams. But it's usually some primal emotion that drives me to the page--fright, love, anger, grief. Something huge and basic needs to take root, and the poem becomes my outlet for processing that emotion. The poem happens when I realize there's no other option.

What is your motto for getting through the tough times?

 I'm not sure where this saying came from--I've seen it attributed to several different people--but I love how strong it makes me feel in the midst of chaos: "Fall down seven times, stand up eight."