Where Poetry is The Point

Towanda Smith, A Hidden Gem

Many gems of talent and skill have arisen to captivate audiences.

Within Downtown Albany’s recent artistic resurgence, one such gem is poetry.   Poets, true poets have been seen walking the streets of Albany, inconspicuous and muted for many years.  They clamor for a piece of paper and a pen as though searching for an inhaler during an asthma attack.  Perhaps you have seen them on the city bus, or in the office, at the bar scribbling on a napkin or elsewhere.  They were rummaging through a purse or a desk drawer searching for a few drops of ink to tell tales of injustice, love, faith, social ills such as, promiscuity and disease and more.

Now that Albany is coming into its own as a quiet metropolis, these poets are starting to fill the seats in any place where they can share their work.  One of these seats, in one of these places, recently held a special talent.  Unassuming, yet deliberate, Towanda Smith commands the attention of the room.  She shares work from her recently published poetry collection: Inspirations from the Father’s Heart.

In her Sweet, raspy voice, Towanda speaks truth to power.   Recognizing purpose in her gifts, she delivers heartfelt expressions that give perspective to the struggles in her own life, and gives a poignant voice to many social issues affecting the African American community, and the American community as a whole.   Recently at Unplugged, I listened to one of her poems called “America”.  Requested by her Student Union President back in college, the poem sheds light on the new American slave trade:  the prison system.  Noting privatization, dehumanization and capitalism, Smith educates her readers and listeners about the flawed justice system that thrives on a failing educational system and self-centered economic system.

A transplant from Seattle, Washington and native of Louisiana, Towanda now lives and writes in Albany.   She is a dedicated Christian, and when asked how she made it through her life’s trials, she replies simply: “Trust in God.  Faith.  Believing that with His help, I would be okay.”  What she left out: using the talent that she was blessed with to help others see things from another, new perspective.  She hopes that people can gain from her testimonies about overcoming challenges.

In a recent discussion, she spoke of having to train herself to absorb the meaning of the parables in scripture.  “I used to take it all too literally,” she discloses.   “Now, I know that I have to take the meaning of each of the stories in the Bible and apply it to my own life.”  Also influenced by writers such as T.S. Elliot, Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman and Nikki Giovanni, her style is bold.

She tells the story of the first poem that she wrote, entitled “William”:  When sitting at a bus stop in Seattle, she noticed a young man with his coat open, revealing no shirt.  She asked him if he needed help, and went on to purchase a shirt and lunch for him.  She invited him to church that very evening, and when he showed up, she was over-joyed.  “That’s where I got my first poem,” she said with a smile.

Inspirations from the Father’s Heart, released through Author House publishers, is available on Amazon.com.  For more information about Towanda Smith, or to see examples of her work, visit the UnPlugged Poetry page on Facebook.   You can enjoy her work live, at UnPlugged Poetry on the first and third Mondays of each month at 7:30pm, at Global Essence, 111 S. Jackson Street in Downtown Albany.

(This article was published in The Albany Journal Newspaper on 12/14/11.  Visit http://thealbanyjournal.com/category/columns/ for the column)


America, America, land of

The free, got our black men

Bound in your prisons of slavery.

They’re in shackles and chains, agony, and pain

Going mentally insane.

 Locked up behind a rusty cell cage, full of anger

Despair, violent, turmoil and rage.

Treated like a criminal and beaten like an animal.

 A dollar for every black male head

That waxes your prisons floors and lies restless

In your beds from being raped the night before.

 Fill up our state prisons

And let them overflow for that is

Were our tax dollar

Will eventually go.

 Privatization, dehumanization,

All in the name of success and dollars, private

Prison management and Service company’s holler

Locked them up and let them do the time,

Even if the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

 It’s a vicious cycle that goes on and on, that

Our media hypes up with the same sensational

Crime songs, that will scare the people,

So they can cry out, lets do away with

Black males.

 Our prison industry and Its perverted

Ways need, need more black men

Incarcerated just to get paid.

 It’s a 100 billion dollar industry that’s

On the rise, as business owners, and

Politicians, capitalize on

Black crime.

 They could care less if a black man dies for

All they see is floating dollar signs in the air,

Not caring about a generation that’s living in


 All they’re thinking about, is the almighty dollar

And could care less about

Rehabilitating our black sons

And our fathers.

 America, America, oh my heart bleeds,

To see that we’re so far from where we

Need to be.  We build more prisons,

Than we do schools, sending the message

To our children, that crime is really cool.

 Our prison industry is nothing but wacked, with

All the dramatic social services cut backs,

From colleges, schools, drug rehabs,

No wonder why the prison reform doesn’t


 Our brothers can’t stay

Out of your prison cells, they come out worse

And wind back up in jail.

You stripped them of their true identity,

Told them what they can and couldn’t

Be, and taken them from their

Families and community.

 No investment in helping them to

Renew their minds, now they’re

Dependent upon you

As they serve a lifetime.

 Systematic racism and slavery, oppressing

The black man and calling them lazy.

Instead of cargo ships, you got them behind bars,

Then that way you can contain

Them from a distance and afar.

 No man overboard, or tossed

Into the sea, instead you just

Locked them up for life and throw

Away the key.

Written By: Towanda Smith  

Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved


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