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Don't Call Us Dead: Poems Paperback – September 5, 2017
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“These poems can’t make history vanish, but they can contend against it with the force of a restorative imagination. Smith’s work is about that imagination―its role in repairing and sustaining communities, and in making the world more bearable. . . . Their poems are enriched to the point of volatility, but they pay out, often, in sudden joy. . . . But they also know the magic trick of making writing on the page operate like the most ecstatic speech.”―The New Yorker
“Danez Smith is angry, erotic, politicized, innovative, classical, a formalist, an activist, and blends all of this without seeming to strain. . . . This will be one of the year’s essential books.”―Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR
“[A] stunning collection. . . . These pieces pulse with the rhythms and assertiveness one expects from poetry slams.”―The Washington Post
“Searing. . . . Smith’s capacity for compassionate invention is epic. . . . Smith races across lexicons and spectra, pushing even the boundaries of typography in wrestling with the dreadful fact that the black male body is imperiled from both within and without.”―Tracy K. Smith, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Arguably the year’s most powerful and affecting collection.”―Publishers Weekly, Best Books 2017
“Don’t Call Us Dead is poet Danez Smith’s ferocious second collection. With humanity and heart, Smith contemplates the assaults on a black, male body in America ― police brutality, violence, and AIDS, and the resulting culture of danger, suspicion, grief, psychological pain, and resistance.”―BuzzFeed
“Smith prophesies an end from which a new beginning might spring. Throughout Don’t Call Us Dead, hope appears as a form of resistance and rebirth.”―The Guardian (UK)
“Exceptional. . . . There is pain here but there is so much joy, so much fierce resistance to anything that dares to temper the stories being told here.”―Roxane Gay, Vulture
“Smith’s work is astonishing, its power is a seething one. . . . An essential part of every American’s reading experience.”―Nylon
“Danez Smith’s astonishing second collection, a finalist for this year’s National Book Award, is a testament to the collective power of the queer black imagination and to Smith’s individual talent. He is one of the most original and powerful poets working today.”―Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“In between rich odes to sexual awakening and love, Smith’s poetry reverberates with an ever-present awareness of the endless fear and latent hurt that accompanies the daily existence of black men in the United States. . . . These are poems you want to wrap your arms around and keep safe.”―Vox
“Don’t Call Us Dead . . . may be the greatest book―not just of poetry, but of any writing, period―I’ve read all decade.”―Porochista Khakpour, Bookforum
“Smith activates a spectrum of emotions in material that could justifiably remain tragic, bringing pathos and several senses of humor.”―The Nation
“These poems are a reminder that there is always at least as much joy as there is violence.”―Rookie
“Elegy meets celebration of the black male body on every page. . . . Smith can’t help but be breathtaking in style and substance.”―Virginia Quarterly Review
“Aching and elegiac, these poems bless our world in all its ruin, beg it to be otherwise, and begin the bloody work of writing it anew.”―Literary Hub
“Danez Smith is a meteorite of the poetry world, blazing new territory with each new book.”―MPR News
“Don’t Call Us Dead is an historical commentary, a scientific document, a personal narrative, and a formal poetics. . . . Smith uses every tool of craft at a poet’s disposal to deliver powerful, urgent, deliberate, crucial poems. Don’t miss this book.”―The Rumpus
“Smith’s book is like poetic rapture. . . . Read Don’t Call Us Dead start to finish and if your breath takes a beat, that’s the point: Smith is here to call us out, wake us up, tear us down to what is raw.”―The Millions
“The result is bittersweet, but the sweetness is real, even when it’s grounded in imagination―partly because that imagination is so grounded in the reality it wants to refuse, but just as much because Smith, in fantasy and in grief, commits to giving pleasure. These poems are a form of entertainment―something far more profound than we tend to admit. Entertainment is more than mere escapism; it’s a form of generosity―a way to knit up the raveled time and materials of lives made ragged. And Smith, at their best, entertains unusually well.”―Kenyon Review
“The poet has always been a prophet leading cultural change to the good, and Danez Smith makes a revival of death into song in Don’t Call Us Dead. . . . Danez Smith is making a high niche in evolution, by sourcing his life into indelible art.”―Washington Independent Review of Books
“Smith has created in this book a universe of boys―black boys, brown boys, sexualized ‘bois,’ but for every struggling, injured or dead boy, there is a heartbroken mother, a grieving grandmother, a fractured circle of friends―a community joined by loss. Smith has managed to leaven this pathos with praise, humor, and the hope of redemption.”―The Hudson Review
“Danez Smith has become one of a generation’s most noticed poets, and for good reason: at once a stunning performer and a tersely effective arranger of words on the page, Smith can address the Black Lives Matter movement, the erasure of black humanity by malign police, and then pivot to vivid, sexy, or scary records from a complex queer sexuality.”―Poets.org
“It’s been a while since I’ve read a book of poems where I felt that the poems had to be written, that everything was at stake in the writing of them―that’s how I feel about Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead, in terms of what the poems address, variously queerness, life on both sides of the divide between HIV- and HIV+, life in the wake of having lost so many friends to the seeming dailiness of police murdering black men in particular, black people more generally. Far, though, from succumbing to despair, Smith makes of joy―of the expression of joy―both a tool for survival and a form of resistance.”―Carl Phillips, Poetry Foundation
“[Don’t Call Us Dead] is all the things poetry ought to be but rarely grasps―heartbreaking, funny, sorrowful, surprising.”―Mpls.St.Paul Magazine
“Not content to merely allow us to play witness to the horrors of oppression, Smith’s poems pull us into it; they brim with blood, violence, aches and broken bodies. But there is humor, too, and hope, and it’s this hope that elevates the book to its crucial contemporary importance.”―BookPage
“These poems decenter through love, erasing margins and reconfiguring the world as a space in which the marginalized body is worthy, the dismissed spirit is honored. They imagine lovingly. They critique lovingly. They mourn and celebrate and insist lovingly.”―Fight and Fiddle
“Don’t Call Us Dead rattles the core of the heart and consciousness for a new understanding of self and its singular and collective orientation in the world. . . . This volume is a testament of a lively and courageous human facing the gun, so to speak, interrogating who flexes power and who is on the other end. Smith lifts the fallen body/bodies up to the light, probes the cosmos for a fierce justice, sees in their brothers’ redemption, objects to random forces of violence, of people gone unhonored, resisting oppression.”―Empty Mirror
“Luminous and piercing, this collection reassembles shattering realities into a shimmering and sharp mosaic.”―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“In this remarkable second collection from Kate Tufts/Lambda Award winner Smith, the content as well as the writing is transcendent.”―Library Journal, starred review
“Part indelible elegy, part glorious love song to ‘those brown folks who make / up the nation of my heart,’ Smith’s powerhouse collection is lush with luminous imagery, slick rhythms, and shrewd nods to Lucille Clifton, Beyoncé, and Diana Ross. Incandescent, indispensable, and, yes, nothing short of a miracle.”―Booklist, starred review
“This book is poetry as fierce fire. There is such intelligence and fervor in these poems about black men and their imperiled bodies, gay men and their impassioned bodies, what it means to be HIV positive, and so much more. Every poem impressed me, and the level of craft here is impeccable. Loved this one.”―Roxane Gay
“Danez Smith’s is a voice we need now more than ever as living, feeling, complex, and conflicted beings. These poems of love extend beyond the erotic into the struggle for unity―not despite the realities of race but precisely because of what race has caused us to make of and do to one another. Don’t Call Us Dead gives me a dose of hope at a time when such a thing feels hard to come by. This is a mighty work, and a tremendous offering.”―Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Life on Mars
“In an America that conspires against black, brown, queer, and trans bodies, Danez Smith writes poems of insistence and resistance; they anticipate a better world for all of us ‘where everything is sanctuary & nothing is a gun.’”―D. A. Powell
“Danez Smith is an original. . . . If you have ever lost faith, if you want to believe in life, then you must read this book―it will humble and uplift you, leave you understanding that in the face of it all, there is only awe.”―Chris Abani
About the Author
Danez Smith is the author of [insert] boy, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Smith has received fellowships from the McKnight Foundation and the Poetry Foundation, and lives in Minneapolis.
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I'm going to be completely candid. Anytime I see a story about an African-American getting shot by a police officer, I feel terrible but it doesn't feel personal. There is a persistent feeling of helplessness because I can't do anything about it and frustration in the knowledge that, if it doesn't stop soon, it'll get much worse. That being said, as a white person, I only really feel sympathetic as an outsider and relieved that I'm not in their shoes. I don't know how else to feel and I'm ashamed to admit, after the public outcry dies down, I move on with my privileged life as though nothing happened. While reading the first poem in this book, "summer, somewhere," I felt, for the first time, that I understood, as much as I could, the weight that is on the shoulders of an entire race of people in this country.
I'm only slightly embarrassed to say that I cried while reading several of the poems. I've been a fan of poetry for most of my life. I've read all the greats - Keats, Frost, Yeats, Whitman, Dickinson, Eliot - and I have never cried. Not once before now. "Don't Call Us Dead" is incredible. I would recommend it to anyone.
I read a lot of poetry. I'm a poet, and I teach poetry in an MFA program. I read a lot of books that get a lot of hype too. But it has been years since I have been so moved by the beauty, strength and importance of a book. I'm telling everyone I know to read this book. Just read it.
That being said, Smith talks about politics, but it isn't a tiring political debate. The reader knows exactly where they stand with their views, but his rhetoric isn’t hateful(although it may come across that way to readers looking from the outside in. Smith shares their opinion about our president without using his name and says he's a man who has "no words / & hair beyond simile." He talks about gun violence and does a poem partly in the POV of a policemen. For example it starts with, "dear ghost I made/I was raised with a healthy fear of the dark" and continues with "I got sca... I was just doing my job." Later, the same poem is the point of view of a black man. Smith shares his opinion and experience on being a man who's HIV positive, but also mixes that topic with others like gun violence and politics within the same breath. Examples: "some of us are killed / in pieces, some of us all at once” and “do you think someone created AIDS? / maybe. i don't doubt that / anything is possible in a place / where you can burn a body / with less outrage than a flag.” Smith is even informative. They gives readers a statistic from the CDC that states 1 in 2 black men who have gay sex will get HIV. Insanity!
The subject matter often intertwines with the motif: Nature. The running theme for this author is nature. They are often comparing things to forests, roots, skies, oceans, dirt ect.
Smith's imagery is powerful. For example, the lines "how your blood / smells like a hospital, graveyard / or morgue left in the sun" made my nose wrinkle and my lip curl in disgust. Smith's vocabulary is kept simple for the most part. There isn’t big fancy words thrown in just to make the poems seem intelligent, pretty or fancy. No need to run and scramble to Google search a word. The poem isn’t pretty because the topics aren't pretty. The choice of making all “I's" lower case is an interesting choice. That speaks volumes in itself about how the author may feel.
The author plays with line spacing quite a bit. Their line breaks make sense and leave the reader often surprised at what comes next or in suspense as their eyes scurry to get to the next line. The most experimentation and line spacing would be pages 51 and 52 with the mixing of phrases of "my blood" and "his blood." It also breaks up the monotony of line reading and just gives the readers a picture to observe.
Overall, it’s great. Not to be read in a single sitting, but meant to be taken in, digested and then reread for more information. The book isn't all doom and gloom, there are poems that have happier notes. This book is good for people who are just getting into poetry because its modern, it taps into things that can be understood by recent /current generations.