Preserving Memory: Whose Job is it and How Do We Do It?

A few posts ago, I discussed Patricia Smith’s (literal) performance of Blood Dazzler, and I promised to highlight an interview I found of hers, but didn’t, because my post already seemed too muddled at the time. I apologize in advance, I just can’t get myself to move past it; Patricia Smith’s work is phenomenal.

That being said, here I am again! I was reminded of the video after reading Beth’s comment on my original blog post, in which she suggested that I further explore the desire of some people to “move on” from Hurricane Katrina. (I would really recommend going back and reading said post before continuing.)

While in the depths of Patricia Smith videos on YouTube, I found one in which she is being interviewed by host and poet Joseph Ross. In the interview, she discusses her childhood, the personification of Katrina, and why she felt like she needed to write Blood Dazzler.  I’d highly recommend watching this video, although I must warn you, it’s a bit lengthy (about 30 minutes). It’s truly fascinating, and Smith is a mesmerizing performer.  Smith talks about how older books are often forgotten and or “pushed back” once a new book comes out. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. We are humans, for goodness sake. We forget. However, in the interview (which was recorded in 2014), Smith claims that she makes (or made) it a point to continuously perform Blood Dazzler (which was published in 2008) when she is invited to events. At about 17:03 (I apologize, I really don’t know how to actually embed the time in here), she says she specifically performs it at schools, and her audience (who are children) is often very confused. She says it’s “frightening” and that they have “no idea what I’m talking about.” As catastrophic as it was, Hurricane Katrina happened in 2005, so fast-forward to 2014 (and even 2018), and a lot of time has passed. As time progresses, the impact and reminder of these events might fade from memory or seem less important.

Though in the present moment, I’m just as frightened and shocked as Smith, I’ll admit, I’m very guilty. If I hadn’t taken this class, I would not have been half as concerned or aware of Hurricane Katrina’s impact, as well as other natural disasters, which makes me pretty angry at myself. I’m grateful that I have the knowledge I do now. 

Smith goes on to say that it’s her job as a story-teller, and the job of other writers, to do what the “history books aren’t necessarily doing.” She says that 10 years from now, people will find this book (Blood Dazzler) lying around somewhere and maybe they won’t read it, but they will pick it up and take a quick look at it. When they do, they’ll say, “That’s right, Katrina happened.” She ends by saying, “And maybe that’s all that we can hope for.”

Patricia Smith’s anecdote and interview highlight prominent issues of remembering and forgetting that Roach uses, but also raises many questions. The overwhelming loss, destruction, and pain of Katrina needs to be remembered and honored and learned from, regardless of how much time passes. But how exactly do we preserve and keep the memories (both of those who died, as well as the hurricane itself) alive? Is it only the job of poets and writers to keep history within public consciousness? There are hundreds, probably thousands of people, who unfortunately might not ever pick up this book. Who won’t ever see When The Levees Broke. Who won’t ever be fortunate enough to take this class. What about for them? How do we keep the memories alive?

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