On stage, at the mike or working without one, Smith's delivery is bold and calculated. "Suzi Q. Smith is like ice water — really, really cold ice water," says Isis Speaks, another local poet. She pauses, then confirms the metaphor. "There's so much in her poetry that can be painful, but in this really deliberate, poignant way. It's brilliant."

Brilliant enough that last year, she was a finalist in both the Individual World Poetry Slam and the Women of the World Poetry Slam, and she was a semi-finalist at the National Poetry Slam. She is a national champion in haiku performance. She has two books and two CDs of poetry to her name, and another one of each in the works. And she is now rated the No. 3 female slam poet in the country, although she doesn't think the national title she won last year had anything to do with her ability to write. "I don't believe that winning or losing makes you a better poet," Smith says. "You can win every slam you're in for weeks and feel so high and then get your ass handed to you by a newbie."

"Suzi Q. Smith is honestly the most reliable person in the Denver poetry community," says Ken Arkind, her fellow coach for Minor Disturbance, Denver's youth poetry slam team, whose members range in age from thirteen to nineteen (see page 41). "She's 100 percent all the time."

Suzi Q. Smith takes on the role of Method Man with Lady Wu-Tang.
Suzi Q. Smith takes on the role of Method Man with Lady Wu-Tang.
Suzi Q. Smith's twelve-year-old daughter, Kai, is her greatest inspiration.
Suzi Q. Smith's twelve-year-old daughter, Kai, is her greatest inspiration.

When she isn't competing or coaching, she's performing locally and teaching at the middle-school, high-school and university levels. She spends about a third of her time traveling — less than she used to, given her health. Since 2008 she's been represented by Boston Event Works; she's one of the few poets with an agent, who takes 15 percent of any appearances she books for Smith. But in order to make a profit from her travels, she does not accept contracts for less than $1,500.

Because of their budgets, college lectures are the most lucrative gigs. Performing slam shows is not a great way to earn a living. Each night, she says, the best average haul is about $200, and that's if you sell all your merch.

Smith has also used the city's music scene to push her poetry and persona. Lady Wu-Tang, which first performed in January2011, has become one of Smith's most frequent outlets for poetry, though the majority is not her own. The band's internal joke about Smith is a serious one. When the members talk about her, they say that "Suzi Q. Smith is a fucking woman."

When Lady Wu-Tang was originally constructed, Smith doubted her assignment to the role of Method Man, the group's reluctant heartthrob and most enigmatic presence. But that all changed when she actually embraced the additional persona. "I remember right before our first show I saw Black Swan and I thought, 'That is my life right now. I'm two people at once,'" she says. "[Method Man] helps me tap into this raw, aggressive side of myself that I feel like is stamped out in most women."

Over the last few months, the cover band has earned considerable attention, most notably from Wu-Tang itself. Smith and the seven other female MCs who front Lady Wu-Tang closed down Raekwon's solo set at Casselman's the day before their own anniversary show at City Hall on January 29. Strapped into a corset and a fishnet top, growling her rhymes to the crowd at the sold-out concert, Smith was all woman — and not quite a lady.

The day after that raw and rowdy performance, the members of Lady Wu-Tang were personally invited by Raekwon to join him and Ghostface Killah on the stage in Aspen. "It felt like everything we had done before was just rehearsal," Smith reflects. "When it came time to step on stage with members of the Wu-Tang Clan, we had practiced enough to be ready for Raekwon to hand us the microphone and let us take over. That's how I want to be every day of my life."

*****

I have words. Many, many words.

I have tongue and teeth and lips.

I keep a hurricane in my throat.

Today's poetry lesson was supposed to focus on sonic and literary devices, but only one kid showed up. For Smith, it was a briefly disheartening glimpse at the future of modern poetry, but for Manny, the sole student who didn't skip for detention or talent-show tryouts, it was a chance to practice his rap, to perfect the flow of the verse he'd just written.

In it, he compared his poetry to Harry Potter's wand, and the magical implications made Smith grin as she watched Manny perform a cappella in the otherwise empty classroom. Smith had signed on for a ten-week after-school program devoted to teaching poetry to sixth- through ninth-graders at Noel Community Arts School, helping them create a finished poem and record it on video. All nine students who should have been in the class, a branch of Flobots.org's work in the cultural arts, had been nominated for the chance by their teachers.

Seated in front of a whiteboard devoted to a lesson on volcanoes, Manny asked Smith if he could read his rap instead of reciting it, but he already knew what the answer would be. "Have you ever gone to a show and seen an MC spitting off a sheet of paper?" she asked. "Wouldn't you want your money back?"

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10 comments
52eighty
52eighty

a better article can be written to shine on Suzi without weaving a mythology that disses Slam Nuba...

I mean, c'mon - "national haiku champion"? Really? Is there also a national limerick champ? As good as Suzi is (and she is good), she hasn't been able to crack the Slam Nuba lineup in the past few years, so the article's portrayal of her affiliation with Slam Nuba is pretty exaggerated - albeit a good coat-tail strategy on her part...

You can do better, Westword.

Surely?

hidingbehindscreennames
hidingbehindscreennames

@52eighty clearly you need to do some fact checking, and don't know much about Suzi. But she's not hard to find if you want to clear it up.

MissJessica
MissJessica

Way to go Suzi Q, love you little sis!

Laura Bond
Laura Bond

Thanks for the story, Westword. Suzi Q is a force of nature. This story will be yet another source of inspiration to the young people whose hearts and minds she reaches through her work. Also great to see The Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry team as recipients of a MasterMind. Lots of poetry, and inspired poetic people, in this issue!

Jellybean Jones
Jellybean Jones

That's my girl! If you haven't heard her yet, you're missing something powerful. <3

Mizz303
Mizz303

Suzi is awesome. I was excited to read the article.

Msbec303
Msbec303

She's simply amazing and dynamic...I'm so proud of her.

SayWhat
SayWhat

Suzi is a singular and amazing talent - but the team that won the championship this year did not include her - I am sure that the actual championship members are a bit insulted by the headline

calhounp
calhounp

The headline refers to the national championship that will be in Denver next month. Definitely no insult intended for the Slam Nuba team, which last year won a Westword MasterMind award.

Kelsey W.
Kelsey W.

The headline refers to the Women of the World Poetry Slam coming here in March. (You're right, she was on the Merc team.)

 
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