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.