Review: Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith || Always Doing


Hey there, Kazen here,
and welcome back to Always Doing. [♪♪] Today I’m taking advantage of the last few minutes of
natural light so that I can do a review of Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith.
This is a work of poetry. I first heard about it from Jen Campbell. If you
don’t know her she’s a really big Youtuber that’s into a lot of poetry, and
she actually judged, I think it’s called the Forward Prize in the UK, and this is the
volume of that won. It’s been on my radar ever since and the #ReadingBlackout
seemed like the perfect time to finally read it. Smith is Black, queer gender, and
is living with HIV and has sex with men. Which sounds weird to say upfront but it
comes up later. This collection is deeply rooted in their experience as a Queer
person of color, and what it’s like to be a person of color, period, in the
United States at this moment. The first poem in the collection is on the longer
side and it absolutely wrecked me. It’s called summer, somewhere and it’s
imagining a heaven for all of the Black boys that have been killed by police
brutality. And it keeps on using the word “boys,” and it’s definitely deliberate
because these are kids that have been killed by police. You know, Trayvon Martin,
Tamir Rice – say their names. After outlining this place where they have
things that Earth never gave them other voices are brought in and through
changes in formatting we can see it’s different people speaking. It might be
the mothers who are burying their sons. There’s one small section that’s even a
police officer that killed one of these kids, and the kid he killed giving a
response. And it’s amazing and wonderful and made me cry. And there’s a few more
poems in that vein. And the next section is about dating as a Queer person and
using dating apps, and the things that they found in them. Like, looking at
profiles, profile after profile that would say “no Black men, please,” “no Black
men,” “it’s nothing against you it’s just that I don’t date Black men.” *They even saw
this on the profile of a Black man so they were like, do you hate yourself so
much that you can’t stand to date someone who looks like you? When you
look in the mirror, do you see someone who is not deserving of love? And the
next section transitions into a part about finding out that they were HIV
positive and that whole experience which I cannot imagine. And thank goodness I
have never had to interpret for somebody who was getting news of quite that sort.
So I can’t even begin to think about what that must be like. But through the
poetry we really get a window into that experience. The thought that, “wait Doc, can you just
hold on a minute before you tell me, because this might be the last minute of
complete peace and happiness I ever know? Thanks.” Feelings towards the partner who transmitted the virus. And they talk about how it affects their
life going forward. The dream of having a family being wiped away in an instant.
And at the end they tie everything together in a really amazing way. It’s
like a stake through the heart but it needs to be said. One of the poems starts
off with the line that the CDC put out a report in 2016, I think, that found that
one in two Black men who have sex with men will contract HIV in their lifetimes.
That’s astronomically high. That’s incredibly high. And Smith makes this
connection saying okay, so this disease is killing us from one direction, and the
world – police brutality, everything else – is trying to kill us
from the other direction, and we’re stuck in the middle. And what are you supposed
to do. And the way that’s expressed was another point where I got all verklempt.
The whole thing. There were a lot of lines that I highlighted that I want to
remember, poems that as soon as I finished them I went back to the
beginning to read them again. I gave this four stars, though, mostly because there
was a group of poems in the middle-ish that I couldn’t connect with for
whatever reason. And maybe on a reread I’ll go back and see what Smith was
getting at and be able to bump this up to five, but for the moment I’m giving it
a very enthusiastic four stars. And that’s
one of the reasons why I’m doing this review today. I’m not sure this is long
enough to justify a single video review as opposed to a wrap-up. However it is
Black History Month, it is African- American History Month in the US, and
maybe you’re doing a #ReadingBlackout, maybe you’re doing the Blackathon, maybe
you’re participating in all sorts of things. And if you have been thinking
about reading this collection I strongly encourage you to do so. It is amazing. So
that’s it for today – a short review to encourage you to read this collection if
you’ve had any tiny little thought or if you’re intrigued by it at all.
Literature is a way for us to experience other people’s lives and I think poetry
especially helps us get into the mind and soul of somebody else in a way that
other forms of literature may not be able to do. At least not so succinctly
and so powerfully as in this collection. Have you had any poetry that’s really
impacted you lately, and do you have any contemporary Black poets that you can
recommend to me? I’d love to hear about them down in the comments. Thank you for
watching, subscribe if you’re new, and I’ll see you in the next video. Bye! [♪♪]
Thanks for watching! I have started my fifth book for the Booktube Prize…
and it has plot! Even some mystery! Gasp! Here’s hoping it stays good (and reads fast, hehe) 🤞🏻

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