Introductions: Danez Smith
November 30, 2018
By Rebecca Hoogs, SAL Associate Director
Once upon a time, we might have thought of ourselves as a series that featured mid-to-late career poets. But, when a poet like Danez Smith comes along, two books into their career, well, you change the rules. This is a poet we’ve been waiting for, and we didn’t want to wait any longer.
Smith is the author of [insert] boy, which won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Their follow-up was 2017’s Don’t Call Us Dead. “This will be one of the year’s essential books,” predicted NPR in their review. And it was. It won the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Porochista Khakpour of Bookforum went farther: “Don’t Call Us Dead . . . may be the greatest book—not just of poetry, but of any writing, period—I’ve read all decade.” Danez’s next book, Homie, will come out in 2020—just in time to be the new best book for a new decade.
In an interview with the Seattle Times this weekend, reporter Crystal Paul wrote that “reading Danez Smith’s poetry is like walking face-first into everything you’re afraid of looking at for too long.” From racism to police brutality to life with HIV to the way, as Tracy K. Smith put it, “the black male body is imperiled from both within and without,” these poems embody the dangers of the body, of a particular body.
But they also ferociously celebrate the delicious joys of the body, of a particular body. Roxane Gay praised the collection, saying, “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.” In an essay, Smith wrote of their own work: “I want to un-tinge black joy, to remove what haunts the corners of our happiness.”
This poetry is ground-breaking, heart-breaking, word-breaking, word-making, world-making. It is haunted and haunting; reader, you will leave with new ghosts. Danez, it is our honor to welcome you to the stage tonight, and rest assured that we’ll welcome you back whenever you want to be called “mid-career.”
Danez Smith gave a sold-out Poetry Series reading at Broadway Performance Hall on November 26, 2018; SAL Associate Director Rebecca Hoogs gave this introduction.