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Don't Call Us Dead

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Poetry (2017)
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.

96 pages, Paperback

First published September 5, 2017

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About the author

Danez Smith

23 books934 followers
Danez Smith is the author of [insert] boy (2014, YesYes Books), a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. Their 2nd collection will be published by Graywolf Press in 2017. Their work has published & featured widely including in Poetry Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal, Buzzfeed, Blavity, & Ploughshares. They are a 2014 Ruth Lilly - Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, a Cave Canem and VONA alum, and a recipient of a McKnight Foundation Fellowship. They are a 2-time Individual World Poetry Slam finalist, placing 2nd in 2014. They edit for The Offing & are a founding member of 2 collectives, Dark Noise and Sad Boy Supper Club. They live in the midwest most of the time.

Danez was featured in American Academy of Poet's Emerging Writers Series by National Book Award Finalist Patricia Smith. Like her, Danez bridges the poetics of the stage to that of the page. Danez's work transcends arbitrary boundaries to present work that is gripping, dismantling of oppression constructs, and striking on the human heart. Often centered around intersections of race, class, sexuality, faith, and social justice, Danez uses rhythm, fierce raw power, and image to re-imagine the world as takes it apart in their work.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,543 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books159k followers
April 2, 2017
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 particularly the epic poems. The level of craft here is impeccable. Loved this one.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,509 reviews29.5k followers
January 26, 2018
After reading Rupi Kaur's gorgeous Milk and Honey (see my review), my first encounter with poetry in quite some time, I decided to delve a little deeper into the genre.

I picked up Danez Smith's Don't Call Us Dead , which was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry in 2017. At turns searing, sensual, provocative, tragic, and evocative, Smith's collection is a potent commentary on race, sexuality, violence, prejudice, promiscuity, homophobia, AIDS, and death. Some of the poems absolutely took my breath away, and some painted immensely vivid pictures in my mind.

i know when the wind feels
as if it's made of hands

& i feel like i'm made of water
it's you trying to save me

from drowning in myself, but i can't
wed wind. i'm not water.

The above stanzas are from "summer, somewhere," an epic poem of sorts, which envisions an afterlife for young black men killed by police. It is emotional, anger-inducing, and tremendously thought-provoking, and Smith's language conveys both the peace and security this new world provides, while at the same time recognizing the tragedies that brought those to this place.

here, there's no language
officer or law, no color to call white.

if snow fell, it'd fall black. please, don't call
us dead, call us alive someplace better.

we say our own names when we pray.
we go out for sweets & come back.

Other poems deal with men struggling to fight their sexuality, yet succumbing to promiscuity, to risky sex and furtive hookups that they know could doom them. The poem "bare," deals with taking that risk.

if love is a room
of broken glass, leave me to dance
until my feet are memory.

Smith's words are sometimes brutal, sometimes explicitly sexual, sometimes painful. This may not be a collection for everyone, but it should be, because it helped me think about the families left behind when their children are lost to violence, the men raised to be masculine but who struggle with embracing the reality of who they are, how those diagnosed with HIV and AIDS struggle with their mortality.

Not every poem worked for me, but those that did left me mesmerized. Smith is an absolutely incredible writer, and I'll definitely pick up another of his collections. This is poetry that may make you uncomfortable, but it dazzles at the same time.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews964 followers
April 20, 2020
Beginning with an extended meditation on the traumatic effects of police brutality in America, Don’t Call Us Dead consists mostly of short poems that address the emotional toll of racism and homophobia upon the lives of queer Black men. At once impassioned and deliberate, Smith writes poems of great insight and intelligence; their attention to bodily experience makes their poetry read as hyper-relevant to our time, while their reflections on American social life are penetrating. It’s rare to read poetry this great, especially when written by a poet at the start of their career.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,111 reviews3,028 followers
October 20, 2022
RE-RERAD (2022):
Every two years in autumn I tend to find myself back with this collection. I discovered Smith's work by chance in 2018 and fell in love with their poetry. My appreciation for modern poetry is a constant struggle, I want to love it (bc I love poetry as an art form) but many modern poets just fall flat for me. Their words ring hollow, it feels like they have nothing of substance to say. Not Danez Smith though. They are my favorite modern poet and I keep returning to their work. Don't Call Us Dead is, in my humble opinion, their best work.

It's a brutally honest and shockingly raw poetry collection which examines questions of race, gender, sexuality and illness. As a person living in a Black body in the US, a person who is perceived as a man and loves men (and loves sex!), and a person with HIV, Danez is fighting, has to fight, many battles. In consequence, their poems feel like a battle cry – some hopeful, others aggressive and loud, but all powerful and rattling.

During my first two reads of this collection, I was mostly interested in Danez's poems about race and racism in the US. These were poems that I could relate to (on some level) and that I could fit into the African American literary tradition I was familiar with. "dear white america" and "dinosaurs in the hood" became instant favorites, as well as "every day is a funeral & a miracle" and "dream where every black person is standing by the ocean". I couldn't quite grasp their poems on (homo-)sexuality and being HIV+. These poems overwhelmed me, their language was so intrusive, wet, and invasive ... I found many of them quite shocking, tbh.

During this reread though I consciously tried to immerse myself in these poems as well, and what can I say? It worked. It worked wonders actually. I already LOVED this collection but I think I love it a little bit more now. With the exception of only one poem I could make sense of every single poem in this collection, every poem touched me in some way.

In "summer, somewhere", Danez pictures a place for all the dead Black boys who died due to racist injustices but also – and this is something I only took note of during my reread – due to homophobia. They write: "outside our closet / i found a graden. he would love it / here. he could love me here." I mean, what a beautiful picture!

A new favorite poem – "at the down-low house party" – focuses on closeted gay men who hide their sexuality and their desires at house parties, who want to come across as cool and aloof and unbothered by male bodies. Their quiet sham is disrupted when a "glittering boy shows up, starts vogueing & shit" and "his sharp hips pierce our desire, make our mouths water / & water & we call him faggot meaning bravery". The poem is so vivid and one I'll keep coming back to.

Danez Smith likens their illness to a "bloodfuneral", in "it won't be a bullet", one of the first poems of the collection, they set the tone: "i'm not the kind of black man who dies on the news. / i'm the kind who grows thinner & thinner & thinner". In "crown", Danez writes: "my blood a river named medusa. every man / i touch turns into a monument." Throughout the collection you get the sense that Danez felt that their HIV+ diagnosis was inevitable. A fate that awaits too many Black gay men. Sometimes their imagery was too vivid and invasive for me but all in all, you really get their sense of urgency and desperation.

I wanna end this review with the last lines of Danez's poem "little prayer": "let this be the healing / & if not let it be". Amen.

REVIEW (2020):
Don't Call Us Dead was my favorite poetry collection of 2018. Ever since then, I read every single work that Danez Smith has published. They remain my favorite poet until this day. Their poetry is so real and raw and truly comes alive on the page. There are just very few artist who manage to completely capture my attention and move me so deeply with their words. Last month, I thought it was time to reread this brilliant collection.

In my humble opinion, Don't Call Us Dead is Danez's best work and I would highly recommend starting with this collection. In it, Danez confronts race, police brutality, gender, sexuality, illness ... what it means to be HIV+, what it means to grow up in a Black body in the US, what it means to grow up gay in a Black family. It is an incredibly personal collection in which Danez makes themselves extremely vulnerable. They let us in on their inner thoughts, their most intimate feelings, emotions of anger and frustration and joy and hope and hopelessness.

Reading Don't Call Us Dead feels like coming home. It is an incredibly brave collection that addresses what needs to be addressed. In a clear voice. Sharp. Bold. Loud. Danez doesn't hold back.

My favorite poems from this collection are: 1) dinosaurs in the hood, 2) dream where every black person is standing by the ocean, 3) every day is a funeral & a miracle, 4) dear white america and 5) summer, somewhere. [I linked videos, if available, of Danez performing these poems. I would highly recommend watching them perform their poetry because their words are meant to be heard, not read.]

I would like to discuss some of these poems a little further because they're all brilliant and hold a special place in my heart.

Dinosaurs in the hood is by far my favorite poem in this collection and quite frankly, my favorite poem of all time. I love poems hat have a clear message, that tell a story. In the poem, Danez imagines what it would be like to direct a movie. A movie about "a little black boy playing / with a toy dinosaur on the bus", about a "neighborhood of royal folks— / children of slaves & immigrants & addicts & exiles—saving their town / from real ass dinosaurs."

It is a humorous poem that will make you laugh and smile but at the same time, also swallow deeply and feel pain when Danez insists that "no one kills the black boy. & no one kills / the black boy. & no one kills the black boy."

Dinosaurs in the hood explores how Black people are portrayed in mainstream media. All the stereotypes and tropes. All the trauma that Black characters (and people) are forced to undergo in order to please a predominantly white audience. By breaking with these norms, Danez manages to write an incredibly empowering poem. Their hopefulness at the end is electrifying: "besides, the only reason / i want to make this is for the first scene anyway: little black boy / on the bus with his toy dinosaur, his eyes wide & endless / his dreams possible, pulsing, & right there." It is so important that we imagine our own futures, futures full of hopes and dreams and light and possibilities.

My second favorite poem in this collection is called "dream where every black person is standing by the ocean":
& we say to her
what have you done with our kin you swallowed?

& she says
that was ages ago, you’ve drunk them by now

& we don’t understand

& then one woman, skin dark as all of us
walks to the water’s lip, shouts Emmett, spits

&, surely, a boy begins
crawling his way to shore
This poem always makes me cry. For me, it's an incredibly piece and tool for working through trauma. Danez uses the image of the ocean, which has served as a burial ground for too many victims of the transatlantic slave, to connect their Black audience to their ancestor through water. Water that stands for the bloodshed but also for memory. Water that isn't just the ocean but also the rivers, lakes, seas in which Black people were drowned – like 14-year-old Emmett who was found on the shores of the Tallahatchie River. For me, the poem also strikes an extremely hopeful chord. Danez connects us to our ancestors. They show that there is a bond there that can never be broken. That they live in us, that we live because and for them. The poem is short, yet powerful.

Summer, somewhere is a longer narrative poem in which Danez imagines an alternative heaven for Black boys (who were murdered by police or through other acts of racism).
please, don't call us dead,
call us alive someplace better.
Danez shows that hope appears as a form of resistance and rebirth. The poem is an extended sequence, a dream-like vision of "unfuneraling" Black boys shot dead by police. Here we find anguish for lives severed in their prime, for the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, in the summer of 2013, as well as the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown during the following summer. The result is tremendously moving. The poem functions as an exalting and longed-for acknowledgement of historical pain.

In dear white america, a poem that went viral on Youtube, Danez's anger finally boils over. It is a reckoning with white racists, white "allies", the white middle class, white liberals. Danez finally has had enough with the supposedly well-intentioned ignorance of white Americans who "just don’t see race", or the wilful hatred of others who do.
i tried, white people. i tried to love you, but you spent my brother’s funeral making plans for brunch, talking too loud next to his bones. you took one look at the river, plump with the body of boy after girl after sweet boi & ask why does it always have to be about race? because you made it that way!
As a Black person living in a predominantly white society, I could relate to EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. WORD. Danez was saying. They were speaking from my soul. Dear white america is a poem that continuously has me shook because Danez doesn't hold back and they no longer give any fucks. Upon my reread, I also noticed that they paid homage to James Baldwin by using Jimmy's famous lines: "How much time do you want for your progress?"

It is extremely disheartening that Danez's words remain relevant as ever [and will still be relevant in 50 years]. Structural racism is the foundation on which our societies are built. Dismantling this system will take hundreds of years. It's frustrating how long it takes for white people to simply see you as human, as equal. It's frustrating and exhausting. However, people like Danez Smith give me hope and strength. They let me know I'm not alone. They let me know that there are shoulders I can stand on, people with whom I can walk hand in hand. All the people who fought before me, fight beside me, and will fight after me are an incredible source of hope and strength.

Here's to us. <3

// Oh, I won this book for my BookTubeAThon Book Dominoes challenge (go me). Not sure if I have to disclose this since I wasn't paid or even required to write this review but maybe some of ya'll wanna know that I didn't pay for this book myself as I won it in a giveaway. :)
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
962 reviews6,806 followers
February 23, 2021
Anything is possible / in a place where you can burn a body / with less outrage than a flag

Since the day I purchased the wonderful Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith, it has accompanied me everywhere in my shoulder bag. It is a collection that has felt like a companion for a year now, travelling across train, plane, down the familiar roads to work and the coffee shops where I do homework and most importantly often in my heart and mind. Yesterday, Danez Smith was awarded the high honor of the Forward Prize, much deservingly so because this book, this poet, is an extraordinary bright light in a world that seems to be always tightening its bitter grip. Not that this collection shirks grim reality. No, it looks it straight in the eyes both fearless and unafraid to show fear, pain, sorrow, and laughs and shouts and reminds us that we are alive even if only for a short while, and that life and death is a bittersweet ball of beauty. Danez Smith covers a lot of territory, from police brutality, gun violence, the black experience, being queer in an unkind world to living with HIV and while the subject matter may be heavy with anguish and anger--and if this collection doesn’t spark outrage at the world you aren’t paying attention--the ultimate feeling is courage and love. You cannot get through this collection with dry eyes.

please, don’t call / us dead, call us alive someplace better.

Danez Smith is a joy. Their first collection insert boy won the Lambada Literary Award in 2014 and they were twice a finalist for the Individual World Poetry Slam. To label them a “slam poet” is to miss the mark--the term “slam poet” has long been used to subjugate black poets under an idea of a “lesser genre” of poetry even when white poets began to popularly appropriate the form in the recent decade--and their words sing beautifully on the page as spoken aloud. There is certainly a marvelous melodiousness to their language, and it cuts straight to the heart. Hearing them aloud is a real treat, check out Danez reading Dinosaurs In the Hood with the plea “& no one kills the black boy. & no one kills / the black boy. & no one kills the black boy.” near the end before reminding the reader of the beauty of “his dreams possible, pulsing”.

America has not been kind to the black boy, and Danez Smith is here to attack this head on. The opening poem summer, somewhere weaves beauty, violence and heartbreak across it’s many pages dealing with the killing of black boys--particularly Trayvon Martin--by police officers. ‘dear badge number,’ they write, ‘what did i do wrong? / be born? be black? meet you?’. The poem moves in and out of perspectives, most emotionally so from the view of the mother:
they buried you all business, no ceremony.
cameras, t-shirts, essays, protests

then you were just dead, some nights
i want to dig you up, bury you right.

scrape dirt until my hands are raw
& wounds pack themselves with mud.

i want to dig you up, let it rain twice
before our next good-bye.

dear sprinkler dancer, i can’t tell if I’m crying
or i’m the sky, but praise your sweet rot

unstitching under soil, praise dandelions
draining water from your greening, precious flesh.

i’ll plant a garden on top
where your hurt stopped.
These are poems that take on America’s sick love of guns--‘paradise is a world where everything / is sanctuary & nothing is a gun’, and that ‘some of us are killed / in pieces, some of us all at once.’ These are poems that take a hard look at race and are unafraid to confront whiteness and it’s hand in oppression and violence. ‘ask why does it always have to be about race? because you made it that way! Smith says in Dear White America. Violence is everywhere and these poems keep us centered in the death that goes on when people do not love each other enough to actually value one another. In every day is a funeral & a miracle Smith weaves a history of police violence with the destructive power of HIV:
i survived yesterday, spent it
ducking bullets, some
flying toward me & some
trying to rip their way out.

There is much remorse for those gone from this world, and they ask why we miss ‘what we will become’? If the answer to all this is not love, than I do not know what is. Love, acceptance, just being human. Smith reminds us that we must confront and dismantle racism, homophobia and fear-mongering as they are racking up a savage body-count.

i am a house swollen with the dead, but still a home.
the bed where it happened is where i sleep.

This is an incredibly moving collection by an incredible poet. Their work will bring you to tears and refresh your heart. While the collection is necessarily dark, there is a lightness to it as well that will fill you with such light that only the best of poetry can muster. Each poem dances on the page, the musicality of the words swinging along with various playful forms that help empathize meaning. This collection, a National Book Award Finalist, and this poet are an essential read in modern times. This is important, don’t look away.

Little Prayer

let ruin end here

let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter

let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs

let this be the healing
& if not let it be
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,093 reviews17.7k followers
August 6, 2020
“dear ghost I made
I was raised with a healthy fear of the dark
I turned the light bright, but you just kept

being born, kept coming for me, kept being
so dark, I got sca… I was doing my job

dear badge number

what did I do wrong?
be born? be black? meet you?”

— — — — — — — — —

When I first read this book, I commented that it was one of the best poetry collections I had read in my life. It remains such, but deserves higher praise than that: this book is the reason I love poetry today. When I read this book (aged 16, dumb), I did not 'get' poetry. Even then, though, I remember vividly noticing the purpose behind each placement of words and phrases. This collection made me cry out of a feeling of being, and you'll forgive me if there is no better word, seen: the words went down to my very sole.

This is work that goes on forever but I think this collection, in impacting me so much, made me think of systematic oppression even moreso as a very personal issue made political by outsiders. There should not and cannot be anything political about the systematic murder of black people; the fact that issues around black life are ever political is morally depraved. Rethink your associations, always.

My favorites from this collection include:
dinosaurs in the hood → why must it always be a moment of racism for the white eye, why can it not just be black people, living
every day is a funeral and a miracle → a piece that skips between mediums and themes and combines them all into a masterpiece. contains several of my favorite short bits from the piece, including this:
“do I 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”

not an elegy → why are you not worthy of a funeral? mourning? an admission of mistake? honor? revenge? why is the right to live a white right?
you’re dead, America → tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow

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Profile Image for Thomas.
1,518 reviews8,976 followers
January 10, 2019
A stunning poetry collection about the black queer experience, Danez Smith captures the dangers of police brutality and HIV with visceral imagery and a heartrending call for change. Their focus on the embodied effects of racism and homophobia makes this collection pulse with a beautiful, searing fire. What I loved most about Don't Call Us Dead: how Smith portrays the pain of being black and queer while still envisioning a utopia for himself and his black comrades. Their vision of a kind, safe, and loving world gives us all something to work toward creating, one act of justice and compassion at a time.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
808 reviews1,264 followers
January 9, 2019
Don't Call Us Dead is an eloquently powerful collection of poems about racism, homophobia, and police brutality against blacks in America.

Click here to see Smith performing their poem "Dear White America" and you will see why you should read this book.

Excerpt from another favourite poem:

"be it my name or be it my ender 's verdict.
when I was born, I was born a bulls-eye.

i spent my life arguing how i mattered
until it didn't matter.

who knew my haven
would be my coffin?

dead is the safest i've ever been
i've never been so alive."
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews588 followers
November 26, 2020
“i loved a boy once & once he made me
a red dirge, skin casket, no burial.
left me to become a hum in a choir of bug mouths. he was my pastor
in velvet, my night nurse my tumor, my sick heart, my bad blood
all over his Tims. he needed me so much he had to end me.
i was his fag sucked into ash
his lungs my final resting place.
my baby turned me to smoke
choked on my name ‘till it was gone.
i was his secret until i wasn’t
alive until not. outside our closet
i found a garden. he would love it here. he could love me here”.

“we did not ask to be part of your America (though are we not America? her joints brittle & dragging a ripped gown through Oakland). i can’t stand your ground. i’m sick of calling your recklessness the law. each night, i count my brothers. & in the morning when some do not survive to be counted, i count the holes they leave. i reach for black folks & touch only air”.

“instead of getting tested
you take a blade to your palm
hold your ear to the wound”

“i spent my life arguing how i mattered
until it didn’t matter”.

“dead is the safest i’ve been.
I’ve never been so alive”.

danger, violence, grief, loneliness, race, sexuality, despair, black men left to die, brown men left to die, gay men and their bodies, HIV, heartbroken mothers; fathers, hope, hope, hope, hope, hope, hope....

painful memories will live on — police brutality—black man can’t breathe- black men shot dead - raging devastating horrific injustice — protests —
Black Lives Matter —
hope for the future.

These poems of piercing reality are dark as can be —
brutal .....
beautifully written....
to be experienced.

Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,113 followers
April 30, 2018
I saw the poet perform/read at AWP (to a giant room with every seat filled and people lining the walls and sprawling in the aisles) and have been holding off reading this book because I knew it would be great but that also that then it would be over. This collection was a finalist for the National Book Award last year but somehow I didn't read it then, and I usually always read all the poetry. It was named to the ALA Over the Rainbow list for 2017, for which I am a committee member this year, so I feel a great affinity to the work.

Some poems are about having a black body in America. Some are about the great losses we have suffered every time an innocent black child or adult is killed. But the poems I found the most compelling were those where Danez writes about what is true now - the blood, the body, living through it.

To that end, a note on the body is my favorite poem of the collection, despite it not being the most popular or most performed.

But here is a list of some you will probably also want to watch, because the poet regularly places at live poetry competitions. The words are a bit different in performance than on the page, but poetry is a living creature.

Dear White America
"...i tried, white people. i tried to love you, but you spent my brother's funeral making plans for brunch...."
(too bad they didn't turn that mic down because the whole thing is a bit distorted)

dinosaurs in the hood
"...this can't be a black movie, this movie can't be dismissed...."

Profile Image for Bobbieshiann.
329 reviews77 followers
November 22, 2017
my tears just kept rolling down my cheek as i read this unshakable poetry book. i cried from understanding, from witnessing, from the lack of knowing, from reading the truth.

“if we dream the old world
we wake up hands up.

sometimes we unfuneral a boy
who shot another boy to here

& who was once a reaper we make
a brother, a crush, a husband, a duet

of sweet remission. say the word
i can make any black boy a savior

make him a flock of ravens
his body burst into ebon seraphs.

this, our handcrafted religion.
we are small gods of redemption.

we dance until guilt turns to sweat.
we sweat until we flood & drown.

don’t fret, we don’t die. they can’t kill
the boy on your shirt again".
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,493 reviews378 followers
January 29, 2018
These poems express outrage at the deaths of so many young black men. They are angry but also elegiac, powerful but often tender, sometimes simultaneously. They celebrate love and the complicated nature of our relationships. Gay love is often the focus but the poems while specific also (as all great writing does) goes beyond that.

I found myself moved to tears, to anger, and sometimes to feelings of guilt as well. All of the poems are driven by a language both clear and skillfully used.

Strongly recommended.
Profile Image for Ebony Rose.
325 reviews136 followers
October 19, 2017
A thousand stars. I devoured this in one sitting. I may just have a new favourite poet.
Profile Image for Dwayne.
120 reviews127 followers
May 1, 2023
I’ve heard so much about this collection of poetry, that I just had to read it. Shout out to Thriftbooks for shipping me a copy in great condition.

My thoughts? It more than lives up to the hype. The wordplay and storytelling are top-tier; I'm glad I had my highlighter handy. It was put to good use.

Every word is carefully chosen, each word has a clear purpose. The imagery is exquisite- Danez writes a lot about blood, even concluding one poem in a typographical spilling over of “his blood” and “my blood.” It’s an experiment, but it is more than effective.

Writing about being HIV-positive while also being Black in America, the poems are political, visceral, and brave, even sometimes darkly funny; I read them breathlessly. I can’t wait to read them again.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
686 reviews3,388 followers
January 15, 2018
One of my goals this year is to read more poetry and I feel lucky to have started with a new book which totally gripped me with the intensity of its voice. The poems in “Don't Call Us Dead” by Danez Smith have the urgent force of a rallying cry. They pay tribute to individuals and groups who will not be silenced no matter how much they are oppressed, incarcerated or killed. Specifically Smith speaks powerfully about the experience of being a gay African American: how skin colour can lead someone to be targeted by the police or alternately excluded/fetishised in the gay community. These are poems drawn from somewhere very personal. They sometimes play off from lyrics from musicians like Billie Holiday or Diana Ross and use a unique variety of forms to convey meaning as much in their structure as they do in the choice of words. Like all great poetry it can be interpreted a number of different ways, but there is a clarity of self here which definitely has something to say.

Read my full review of Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Read By RodKelly.
206 reviews754 followers
October 10, 2017
Danez Smith of the most brilliant poets writing today! His ability to turn a phrase and move from tenderness to bitterness in a few lines is so unique. He truly holds nothing back in this brilliant new collection.
Profile Image for Brooke.
284 reviews142 followers
April 5, 2018
3 stars

Average. Some poems stood out, while others fell into its shadow. Interested in comparing with the author's other works. Favorite selections include: "DINOSAURS IN THE HOOD", "ELEGY WITH PIXELS & CUM", "1 IN 2", & "EVERY DAY IS A FUNERAL & A MIRACLE."
Profile Image for BookChampions.
1,185 reviews108 followers
November 24, 2017
Danez Smith confirms their space as my favourite living poet. Their poems document the emotional lives of black men, of queer men, of HIV+ men, while they place these thoughts firmly within the human body. The best poems, to me, are ones that are visceral, that make me feel my humanity across the bumps and hairs of my skin. I can't hear or read a Smith poem without that feeling.

Don't Call Us Dead is a startling collection of poems, arresting in its lament & defiance, impressive in its rhythm & structure, refreshing in its brutal hope. This memorable book, nominated for a National Book Award, features "dear white america," perhaps the most affecting slam performance I've ever seen. And these lines from "summer somewhere" will become an anthem for my imagined future of our country:

paradise is a world where everything
is sanctuary & nothing is a gun

We're so lucky to have this book of poems about the prisons, closets, and imagined playgrounds of race, masculinity and sexuality.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
590 reviews10.4k followers
July 12, 2021
Some of these poems are just WOW. Smith is a powerhouse of mood and language. The way they engage with emotion without excessive manipulation is great. Some of the poems didn’t land and I got off course with others. Overall a big yes. So impressed with all that this collection says about fear, sex, Blackness, queerness, violence, and pleasure (and of course much more).
Profile Image for anna (½ of readsrainbow).
596 reviews1,840 followers
June 1, 2020
how old am i? today, i’m today.
i’m as old as whatever light touches me.

some nights i’m new as the fire at my feet
some nights i’m a star, glamorous, ancient

& already extinguished. we citizens
of an unpopular heaven

& low-attended crucifixions.
Profile Image for Athena Lathos.
132 reviews7 followers
June 21, 2018
4.5* (Warning: mini-rant on the ~literary establishment~ ahead)

Recently, I overheard a woman dismiss some of my favorite young contemporary poets, including Kaveh Akbar and Danez Smith, as "over-hyped." It really bothers me that people are getting salty about the popularity of poetry in the lit market. I mean, yeah, I am not a fan of Rupi Kaur's broken-up cliches either, but literary gatekeeping is pretty gross, especially when it serves to unfairly dismiss incredible collections like this one. Don't Call Us Dead fully deserves the "hype" it receives, which is surely little in comparison to the hype surrounding the James Pattersons of the world.

Overall, I found this collection beautiful, brave, and refreshingly varied in terms of its experimentation with poetic form. Importantly, Smith's playfulness with different kinds of punctuation, like the " // " between stanzas, never came across as overtly gimmicky to me in the way that similar moves can in other collections. But maybe this is because I was intently and emotionally processing the seriously tender and powerful lines in each of Smith's poems.

I know that "summer, somewhere" is one of the more popular/lauded pieces in this collection, and it is undoubtedly a stunning set of verses. But there are other, smaller poems in Don't Call Us Dead that give me the chills and make my heart ache, like "at the down low house party" and "dream where every black person is standing by the ocean." Other standouts: "not an elegy" and, of course, "dear white america," which (like "summer, somewhere") feels epic in its scale and scope.

Profile Image for Irmak ☾.
236 reviews52 followers
December 19, 2021
“i spent my life arguing how i mattered
until it didn’t matter.

who knew my haven
would be my coffin?

dead is the safest i’ve ever been.
i’ve never been so alive.”

this was incredibly raw and powerful.
Profile Image for Z. F..
298 reviews93 followers
January 6, 2020
i stand in the deepest part of night/singing recklessly, calling/what must feast/to feast.

Just an absolutely astounding collection, the kind of poems poetry was invented for. Smith pulls from a stylistic toolbox any reader of modern poetry will recognize, but they do things with those tools I've never seen done before.

The book starts with a long piece called "summer, somewhere," about a paradise for black boys where "there is no language / for officer or law, no color to call white" and "we say our own names when we pray." It's too good and too personal to tarnish with my own white words, stunning in a way that so little we call "stunning" actually is. Here's most of it. If you never read anything else I recommend, read that.

In other poems Smith meditates on death, disease, and prejudices of all kinds, with a brilliant and harrowing suite of poems in the second half all about their HIV diagnosis at age 24 and the inner and outer shifts which accompanied it. But threaded through the heartache and the rage there's also an emphasis here on black wonder, black pleasure, black joy. It's that, even more than the darker stuff, which feels truly transgressive in our time and place: Smith's revolutionary willingness to envision black happiness and abundance in a world where these have so long been denied as a matter of course.

I am is the center of everything.
I must be the lord of something.

what was I before? a boy? a son?
a warning? a myth? I whistled

now I’m the God of whistling.
I built my Olympia downstream.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,316 reviews962 followers
April 11, 2023
history is what it is. it knows what it did.
Well, this short book of poetry begins by quoting Drake, which was not a good sign. There were quite a few very powerful lines, very poignant and evocative, but the overall impression was that Danez Smith’s poems are a half-step above Instagram poetry, a genre that clearly appeals to many but not to me. The lowercase type, the freeform punctuation, the textspeak (ampersands, abbreviations, etc.), the over-reliance on basic poetic techniques... it’s just not for me. I’ve still not quite figured out exactly what it is about the majority of this style of poetry that bothers me so much, although I can pick out a handful of things: a tendency towards oversimplistic language, sophomoric rhyme, a general childish appearance. I know this is a personal problem—obviously the genre is doing something right, based on its unbelievable popularity. But something about it just doesn't work for me. Believe me, I feel bad about it too.
do you know what it’s like to live / on land who loves you back?
I guess maybe my problem is with modern poetry in general, possibly? I just have a hard time reading a poem about murdered children that also includes a line about the popular American snack brand Cheetos.
Profile Image for Val Timke.
130 reviews10 followers
July 22, 2020
this movie can't be metaphor / for black people & extinction."
This is my first experience with Danez Smith (other than "dinosaurs in the hood" for a class). I am pleasantly reminded of Hanif Abdurraquib's style (though both poets are different in their own ways, they break lines in interesting places as well as use clear-cut, impactful language). I read this whole book in essentially one sitting; I really needed some good poetry to get me in my feels. This did it. I want to read all of Danez Smith's work, so this will only be the beginning for me.
"that world of laws rendered us into dark / matter. we asked for nothing but our names / in a mouth we've known / for decades. some were blessed / to know the mouth. / our decades betrayed us."
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books968 followers
October 6, 2018
If you want a snapshot of where poetry is in 2018, this might be the book. Trump & Cronies may be having their way inside the Beltway, but minority voices--raw and angry and visceral--are loud and clear in verse being written partly in response. Like this.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.
1,853 reviews110 followers
May 3, 2018
I don't read much poetry, but I keep picking up collections hoping to expand my horizons. This slim volume is an exploration of the intersection of being black and gay in America. There were poems that I didn't get, some that were OK, and some that stopped my breath. These were powerful enough to bump my rating by an additional star.
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