National Poetry Month Celebration
Bio: Clint Smith is a poet and educator from New Orleans, Louisiana and following the 2012 Individual World Poetry Slam, is the 5th ranked poet in the world. He is a 2010 graduate of Davidson College where he majored in English and founded FreeWord, Davidson’s first slam poetry team. Upon graduating from Davidson, Clint lived in Soweto, South Africa working to educate youth in the township on HIV/AIDS by engaging them in soccer and spoken word. Currently teaching high school English in Prince George’s County, MD, he is the 2012 Graffiti DC Grand Slam Champion and is a member of the 2012 Beltway Poetry Team, representing DC at the National Poetry Slam. He has been featured on TVOne’s premier poetry and music show, Verses & Flow, and has served as a cultural ambassador to Swaziland on behalf of the U.S. State Department, conducting poetry workshops with youth throughout the country focused on HIV/AIDS prevention, cross-cultural understanding, and self-empowerment.
As someone who believes firmly in the role art can play in mobilizing communities and shaping policy, Clint has performed and spoken at events including the International AIDS Conference, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s ECET2 Conference, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ “Place Matters” Conference, the Teach For America Regional Institute, the African Leadership Academy, and the School for International Training.
Recently, Clint was named the 2013 Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Humanities Council.
Aside from poetry, Clint loves his mom, scrabble, and the feeling you have right after you eat way too many barbeque ribs.
His work can be found at cwardsmith.tumblr.com and he can be followed on Twitter @ClintSmithIII.
When We Catch Up to Him
My grandmother asked me,
Do you remember the way he used to laugh?
We stood and watched my grandfather,
an effigy of a life once dreamed of living.
When we were growing up,
my grandfather was as strong
as one hundred horse-bound chariots
and as calm as a mountain range at midnight.
His voice was the Mississippi Delta after heavy rain.
So it kills me,
to watch the proudest man I have ever known
crumble at the shame
of being unable to say his own name.
Neurons disappearing faster
than Post-Katrina projects.
In the eye of this storm was my grandmother.
You have not seen love
until you have seen a woman
with the patience of an Artic spring
maintain a smile while she watches
the only man she has ever loved
revert into a state of infantile dependency.
Feeding a man who has forgotten
how to swallow his pride.
When he uses the bathroom
she holds his toilet paper in one hand,
her devotion in the other.
A fireball of a woman
in the form of a schoolteacher,
but there is nothing that can teach you
how to hold something so flammable.
I watch the rest of her life held hostage
by his needs. His forest fire condition
renders him unable to do or say the things
that had made him that inferno of a man.
I dreamt of a world where my grandmother
could hand him the phone--
Grandpa, this is Clint
and he would know who that was.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s.
It is death in slow motion,
a cerebral implosion.
It is watching someone die,
and not being able to do anything about it.
sensing the helplessness in my heart
took hold of my hand.
Held it as the soil
does the first root of a young sapling.
Baby, coming and going are just the same thing
and only depends on where you’re standing.
Everything will be fine,
is just getting a head start to heaven,
simply waiting for the rest of us
to catch up.
Where do you draw your inspiration from to write poetry?
I’m inspired by people, particularly those who live their lives in an effort to uplift others. I’m especially inspired by my students—their curiosity, their brilliance, and their unrelenting will to be more than this world expects them to be. In all honesty however, inspiration is everywhere, sometimes you just have to step back for a second and see what’s right in front of your face.
What advice do you have for someone that is threatened by poetry?
Poetry shouldn’t be something intimidating. Part of the beauty of the art form is how accessible it is regardless of who you are or what your background is. It provides a unique opportunity to tell the stories of those who are not given a voice. It can also give insight into our common humanity by contextualizing each of our lives relative to those around us. It’s a dynamic art form that challenges our perceptions and continuously allows us to think outside of ourselves. That’s what I love most about it --it is a medium that enhances our empathy.
What is an interesting fact about you?
I hate chocolate and I love really competitive games of Taboo.
Where are you from / Where do you live?
I was born and raised in New Orleans, LA. Following Hurricane Katrina, during my senior year of high school, I moved to Houston, TX where I lived with my aunt and uncle until I finished school. I currently live in Washington DC and teach at Parkdale High School in Prince George’s County.
Who is your favorite poet?
Most of the time it’s my students.