No part of HTKTF has been published in periodicals or chapbooks. Due to the novel-like way that the story in HTKTF unfolds, it was not excerpted prior to book publication. The full manuscript was a finalist at both Sundress Publications and Nightboat Books.
How to Know the Flowers tells a story of sexual harassment, job loss, grief, and repair through art and female friendship.
Adam Vines, author of Out of Speech, writes of How to Know the Flowers:
With erasures, spatial poems, and poems that resemble spreadsheets, Jessica Smith moves from the interruptions and pauses, the white spaces and rigid blocks of trauma to tenderness and empowerment through the natural world and the dyeing of fabrics with native flora. The dyeing, a distillation, a memory of what once was, becomes the process by which the speaker starts to heal and find intimacies again. These poems are innovative and organic in their wanderings and painfully accurate in their conclusions that we are always merely on the verge of discovery, but, perhaps, that can be enough.
Poet Nada Gordon writes:
The metaphor that imbues Jessica Smith’s How to Know the Flowers is “learning to dye.” If words are the flower petals potent with lexical color, Smith’s compositional will is the mordant that fixes them onto the page. One doesn’t merely read these poems, but topples into them, attention moving through them diasporically or in networks. Ingeniously, however the words recombine, the rhythm always works. Like healing herbs, the poems are balms for trauma; they show the transmogrification of painful life experience into blooming form.
Poet and Editor Megan Burns, author of Basic Programming, writes:
And here is the landscape of trauma petaled with knowing and unknowing, the delicate architecture between what rises to the surface and what keeps beneath the soil. The poems’ handling of sexual abuse is the taproot from which springs an invulnerability as they navigate from: “heal this loss please” to “I didn’t want to know/ my failure.” Smith accurately draws the line between the threat to safety across borders of home, work, and country; and how these are not only interconnected but also quietly eroding at a rapid pace. Smith’s poems scatter across the page leaning into the dream work tapestry of: “I teach myself new things/ to get to a new self” and this is how grief shapes us. How to Know the Flowers is the same language of survive.