Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review: 'Don't Call Us Dead' by Danez Smith


Minnesota poet Danez Smith, a Black queer American poet, is the author of BLACK MOVIE, and [INSERT] BOY - the winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation and earned a Master of Fine Arts form the University of Michigan. According to one critic, His poems tackle the complexities of being young, black, and HIV-positive. He is a keen observer of the human condition, and his words express with urgency the need to understand one another.’

Reading these extraordinary poems is a multifaceted reward. The writing and choice and placement of the words are mysteriously right and the impact on the reader is shattering. The thoughts range form dark to luminous and become tattooed on our psyche like few other poets accomplish.

A NOTE ON THE BODY

your body still your body
your arms still wing
your mouth still a gun

you tragic, misfiring bird

you have all you need to be a hero
don’t save the world, save yourself

you worship too much & you worship too much
when prayer doesn’t work: dance, fly, fire

this is your hardest scene
when you think the whole sad thing might end

but you live oh, you live

everyday you wake you raise the dead

everything you do is a miracle

LAST SUMMER OF INNOCENCE

there was Noella who knew i was sweet
but cared enough to bother with me

that summer when nobody died
except for boys from other schools

but not us, for which our mothers
lifted his holy name & even let us skip

some Sundays to go to the park
or be where we had no business being

talking to girls who had no interest
in us, who flocked to their new hips

dumb birds we were, nectar high
& singing all around hem, preening

waves all day, white beater & our best
basketball shorts, the flyest shoes

our mamas could buy hot, line-up fresh
from someone’s porch, someone’s uncle

cutting heads round the corner cutting
eyes at the mothers of girls i pretended

to praise. i showed off for girls
but stared at my stupid, boney crew.

i knew the word for what i was
but couldn’t think it. i played football

& believed its salvation, its antidote.
when Noella n ’nem didn’t come out

& instead we turned our attention
to our wild legs, narrow arms & pig skin

i spent all day in my brothers’ arms
& wanted that to be forever –

boy after boy after boy after boy
pulling me down into the dirt.

Danez Smith is a major voice in American literature and quite possibly one of our very finest poets historically and in the now. He shakes us with realities and then sings about them with incandescent fervor. Brilliant. Grady Harp, September 17








Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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