danez smith


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I have been reading Danez Smith’s book of poetry, Don’t Call Us Dead. He has poems in the March issue of Poetry magazine. I recognized his name on the cover of the book sitting on the new shelf at the library and checked it out.

Smith is a funny guy. He has apparently asked to be referred to as “they” not “he” or “she.” Accordingly, that’s how they are identified in their bio in the mag.

Their poetry springs from an intense engagement with life with lots of erotic and homo-erotic orientation.  It rocks. They are a craftsman and their poems continuing to delight, surprise, and trouble me as I read them.

Since Smith is African American, it strikes me that in deciding to be referred to as “they”  Smith probably has thought about the “us versus them” aspect of being Black in America.

There is some lovely beauty about the whole deal that intrigues and ultimately charms me.

This charm was  made complete this morning when I was laying in bed looking at the Poetry mag app. In the app there are added features that are not in the mag such as discussion guides about some of the poems crafted by the poets themselves (The discussion guide is included in the online version).There is also a long piece where Martín Espada writes about his poem, “Letter to my father.” I shared this poem earlier this month because it impressed me. So reading the extra info provided by the poet about the background of the poem and his relationship to his dead father was very cool.

But what really got me going this morning was discovering in the app that Danez Smith had made a playlist on Spotify to go with the entire issue.  I popped it up on Spotify and listened to it this morning as I did dishes. I have sprinkled some of the songs here as embeds in case you’re curious and don’t want to mess with the Spotify playlist.

It made me think of David Byrne’s recent appearance on the BBC show Desert Island Discs which I wrote about in a previous post.  Smith’s choices were so much more interesting to me than Byrne’s. David Byrne is one year younger than me (He’s 65 and I’m 66). Smith is the generation of our adult children or even younger. I couldn’t find a birth year for him online.

Byrne’s aesthetic is self consciously hip and pretentious. I have had trouble with his narrow approach to music and mentioned it here before. What struck me most about Smith’s choices (of the ones I have listened to so far) is that they drew me in with their sound. This is so important to me and what I am always curious about. How does the music sound?

I had to wonder how he ran across some of his choices. Did his parents listen to Marvin Gaye? His grandparents? The styles he chooses (like Byrne’s) grow out of popular music tastes, a taste I share. But Byrne puts me in mind a bit of Paul Simon’s career choice to take music by other musicians and build new music out of it. It feels a step or two away from the authenticity I treasure in music. At the same time, I enjoy music by these men of my generation, but I also need to listen, play, and think about music in a broader and different way.

I suspect Smith’s choices are made with a different kind of passion. Here’s what he has to say about his list:

Confession: I love making a playlist. I love pretending I’m a DJ. I fancy myself pretty decent at working up a groove via a Spotify playlist. I wish I could burn you all a CD, but I tried to pick these songs with similar care so you can jam a little as you settle in with the March issue of Poetry. This playlist has a song for every poem.

Danez Smith

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