13. A collection of poetry: Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith
List Progress: 19/25
My preferences for poetry tend to be on two extremes: either very stylized, full rhyming couplets and romantic imagery, or very direct and contemporary, free verse and clear topics and viewpoints. Don’t Call Us Dead, a 2017 poetry collection by Danez Smith, is very much in the latter category, and very, very good at what it does. Lovely imagery, lovely but uncomplicated language, and very direct imagery. The whole collection is about Smith’s relationships to his identity as a gay man, a black man, and an HIV positive man, as well as the connections between all three and how he and other gay black men exist in America. It’s very strong stuff and I definitely recommend it. And not just because Smith is from Minnesota like me.
For a slim book, I spent at least a couple weeks reading through Don’t Call Us Dead, as I didn’t want to read more than a few poems at a time. Smith has a fairly distinctive writing voice and I wouldn’t want the individual poems to run together. That being said, I do recommend reading Smith’s poems in this collection form, so one piece informs the other informs the whole. It’s a collection to be savored and lingered over. You need a certain degree of comfort with uncomfortable topics, with how explicitly Smith described gay sex and his relationship with his body after his HIV diagnosis, but these are not poems designed to make you comfortable. Not a breezy read, but one that I would highly recommend, even if you’re not much of a poetry person.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.