Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah

Poems by Patricia Smith

“Patricia Smith is writing some of the best poetry in America today. Ms. Smith’s new book is just beautiful—and like the America she embodies and represents—dangerously beautiful. Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah is a stunning and transcendent work of art, despite, and perhaps because of, its pain. This book shines.” —Sapphire

March 2012
6 x 9 | 116 pages
Paperback Original

ISBN: 978-1-56689-299-5.



Winner of the 2014 Rebekah Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry
Winner of the 2013 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize
Winner of the 2013 Wheatley Book Award in Poetry
Finalist for the 2013 William Carlos Williams Award

In her newest collection, National Book Award finalist Patricia Smith explores the second wave of the Great Migration. From her parents’ move from the South to Chicago to being raised as an “up North” child under the spell of Motown music, she captures the rampant romanticism of waiting and hoping and the dogged disappointment and damage of living under a delusion. Shifting from spoken word to free verse to traditional forms, she reveals “that soul beneath the vinyl.”


“Patricia Smith is writing some of the best poetry in America today. Ms. Smith’s new book is just beautiful—and like the America she embodies and represents—dangerously beautiful. Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah is a stunning and transcendent work of art, despite, and perhaps because of, its pain. This book shines.” —Sapphire

“Smith doesn’t clog up the end of the poem with an easy, insincere moral; she just tells her story and gets offstage, which is exactly the right thing to do.”The Stranger

“First of all, wow. This book is a treasure.”The California Journal of Women Writers

Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah is about the Great Migration, when a half million African Americans left the South and moved to Chicago between 1916 and 1970. [S]mith evokes parents and children in the new urban environment.” —The Pioneer Press

“Welcome to a place of hopes and dreams punctured with rawness and pain. Patricia Smith’s autobiographical epic is cinematic in scale yet music box in intimacy. . . . Smith compresses culture ’til it peals like crystal—like singing light.”The Brooklyn Rail

“Patricia Smith’s newest collection, Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, evokes a sense of history and self-awareness combined with precise storytelling and the most crafted verse. . . . In her current incarnation, we find one of the most authentic voices of Modern American Poetry.” —Pank Magazine

“[Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah] effortlessly moves between forms and regions.”Flavorwire

The people here are so vividly drawn that the reader is deep in their world by the fourth poem of the book, and what a rich, many-layered world Smith creates, full of passion, struggle, and a fierce and vivid surviving, behind which, all ‘swerve and pivot,’ all ‘languid, liquid, luscious’ is Motown. . . . Smith’s poems are their own powerful music.” Mead Magazine

“This is a wry collection of memories of growing up, learning to lie (to get out at night), learning to be sexy, learning to walk just so, learning to hide … and then, finally, learning to be proud of who and what she is.”RALPH Mag

“Smith’s rhythms create a life-breath almost as potent as Motown’s beat itself. . . . [her] fresh diction is surprising enough to be almost a new language.”Rattle

“Smith is a powerhouse poet. Her poems are as tightly constructed as masonry, yet they are quick-footed, spinning, singing, funny, and heartbreaking. . . . Smith’s immediate, deeply compassionate, magnificently detailed narrative poems of one young woman’s complicated coming-of-age embody the sorrows, outrage, and transcendence of race-bedeviled, music-redeemed twentieth-century America.” Booklist

“[A] whole-cloth remembrance, lament, and celebration that is not to be missed.”—Coldfront“Top 40 Poetry Books of 2012”

“Patricia Smith’s dazzling new book sings Chicago and Detroit, the midcentury migration of African American families northward (They say it’s better up there . . .), to cities both harsh and alluring, cities that offer and withhold, raise hopes and dash them at once. Above all, Smith turns her attention—her passion, her fierce sonic powers—to Motown, that aural mirage, the shimmering promises inherent in ‘every wall of horn, every slick choreographed / swivel . . .’ Here is one of our essential poets at the top of her form, bristling with energy and fire, praise and outrage. There’s no one like Patricia Smith, and her bold, necessary poems light up the American twentieth century in all its song and sorrow.” —Mark Doty

“At her best Patricia Smith writes poems full of risk and courage, thick with pain and alive with insight and humor. At her best, Patricia Smith confronts memory with delight and alarm, and manages to find music in the abject and callow. At her best, Patricia Smith has discovered the necessary equation to make beautiful, memorable poems: she calls it ‘the crunch / of bone, suck of marrow.’ In Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, part elegy to things past, part epic poem of migration and the planting of roots, part anthem to Chicago, to family, to the deepest unspeakable secrets of a girl’s coming of age, Patricia Smith is at her best, and the gift she presents to us is truly, truly priceless.” —Kwame Dawes

“From the Mississippi Delta to Chicago, these poems embody America. Patricia Smith is a formidably gifted poet (‘Motown Crown’ is stunning), yet perhaps her greatest gift is her openness—my heart is made larger when I live with any of her words, if only for awhile.” —Nick Flynn


From “Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah”

My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins
of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield
and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap
of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat
and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama,
repeatedly crushing it with her broad, practical tongue
until it sounded like an instruction to God and not a name.
She wanted a child of pressed head and knocking knees,
a trip-up in the doubledutch swing, a starched pinafore
and peppermint-in-the-sour pickle kinda child, stiff-laced
and unshakably fixed on salvation. Her Patricia Ann
would never idly throat the Lord’s name or wear one
of those thin, sparkled skirts that flirted with her knees.
She’d be a nurse or a third-grade teacher or a postal drone,
jobs requiring alarm clock discipline and sensible shoes.
My four downbeats were music enough for a vapid life
of butcher shop sawdust and fatback as cuisine, for Raid
spritzed into the writhing pockets of a Murphy bed.
No crinkled consonants or muted hiss would summon me.


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