Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Don’t Call Us Dead is a powerful collection of poetry by Danez Smith that deals with police brutality on Black people, sexuality, and Smith’s HIV diagnosis. This collection of mostly short poems are brilliant and evocatively told. Smith’s anger, despair, and heartbreak vividly shines through this collection all told in their unique and extraordinary use of language.
Smith has a way of making you feel exactly the emotions being conveyed in the poem. Some writers you just read their work and can hopefully appreciate the artistry of their poems. But with Smith, I am always swayed by their words and am riding the wave of anger, despair and heartbreak with them. And I found this collection particularly heartbreaking because it was released in 2017 and every single poem still applies to today, in 2023. All of the anger that comes through so clearly almost feels like not enough because why are we still stuck in a place where everything that Smith writes is still so applicable to today. It is infuriating and the pain felt throughout each verse is even more excruciating.
This is my second collection I have read from Smith and I will be prioritizing more from them because their honest and incredible use of language deserves to be seen more. There is a YouTube video of Smith performing Dear White People that in included in this collection and I highly recommend watching. A warning that the audio isn’t the best but the emotions and brilliant use of words are on display.
“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.”
“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.”
“think: once, a white girl was kidnapped & that’s the Trojan War. later, up the block, Troy got shot & that was Tuesday. are we not worthy of a city of ash? of 1,000 ships launched because we are missed? i demand a war to bring the dead child back. i at least demand a song. a head.”