Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

The new collection by American poet Danez Smith is a truly unique and resonant read

Book Review by Clare Mulley | 12 Jan 2018
  • Danez Smith - Don't Call Us Dead Book Cover
Book title: Don't Call Us Dead
Author: Danez Smith

Danez Smith’s new collection is a mixture of stream of consciousness, soliloquy and address, by turns searing and soft. To fully convey the intricacy of such a collection here would be impossible; though it is as much music as rhetoric – not forceful in the conventional sense, but an almost-physical call to every vulnerable point of the psyche, until all opens wide and aches with the speaker. 

Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a haunting sequence ‘summer, somewhere,’ imagining an afterlife inhabited by the souls of black men shot by the police, now in possession of all the security, love and freedom they were not automatically granted on Earth. Chunky poems like Dear White America – an accusatory letter exposing an abusive and contrary motherland – sit alongside sparser concoctions, which lose no power in their brevity. A particular standout, It Won’t Be a Bullet, expresses relief that the poet will not die like …the kind of black man who dies on the news.

No poem takes a worn path, even in the realms of familiar and widely discussed topics such as HIV, homosexuality, the inevitable effect of race upon one’s outlook, or how a white person’s inborn assumption of liberty can cause ignorance of the racial prejudice inherent in the system:  ‘…how does it feel/ to dance when you’re not/ dancing away the ghost?’ A truly unique and resonant read. 

Vintage Books, 18 Jan, £10