Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, some of us all at once. Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America–“Dear White America”–where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.
Title: Don’t Call Us Dead
Author: Danez Smith
Published on September 5th 2017 by Graywolf Press
Format: Kindle, 101 pages
I have SO MUCH TO SAY about the works in Smith’s collection, yet not enough space. I wish I had discovered Smith sooner, since I may have found a new poet to binge works of.
Smith discusses SO MANY topics: racism, homophobia and prejudice against the queer community, social medias influence on society, dating culture, stereotypes in films. I could go on about Smith’s works, but I’ll just focus on a couple. Everyday is a funeral discusses the fear of death by AIDS or by the colour of their skin. This never ending cycle of fear and death is heartbreaking, something so many are faced with when they shouldn’t.
Dear white People is a powerful and unforgiving work about a call to stop the hatred against the non-white communities. The media seeks to highlight them as the villains, while the law doesn’t help protect so many non-white people from horrors we all face (i.e. assault, missing persons, etc.). We see this injustice in the news all the time, black people being shot for nothing while a white person is calmly arrested during atrocities. Yet people refuse to see this imbalance and injustice. Many of the poems convey such messages, providing a wake-up call to the rest of society.
The symbolism and imagery in Smith’s collection goes beyond words, the driving force to the power behind the poetry. The intense yet beautiful imagery is almost terrifying, making parts hard to digest. A number of reviewers found these parts too disturbing, but I loved the shock factor. It makes the messages Smith is trying to convey to the world grander and more substantial, illustrating the hardships the black and queer community face on a daily basis.
What fell short for me is that these powerful poems overtook a number of the other poems in the collection. They just didn’t convey as strong of an emotional response from me. And some just went over my head, causing confusion and missing the mark. I think I would’ve enjoyed this more as an audiobook. However, poetry works like that, and many people may not have this issue. So take this point with a grain of salt.
Works like this are what we need, insightful and real looks into white privilege and the imbalance in the world. Smith is a fantastic poet, one I think many will enjoy.
I recommend this novel if you enjoy: focus on race and culture; variety in poetic styles and forms; language oriented books; LGBTQ+ reads; in-depth look into societal flaws.