“do you know what it’s like to live/someplace that loves you back?”

The LGBTQ Book club met on April 30 at the Central Library to discuss Danez Smith’s poetry collection, the 2017 National Book Award finalist Don’t Call Us Dead. It was our first foray into poetry as a group, in honor of National Poetry in April (and a feature of this year’s #NPRPoetryMonth). Smith identifies as Black, Queer and HIV postive (Pos), uses the pronoun they and is a member of the Dark Noise collective. danezsmith

We decided to focus on the first poem in the book, “summer, somewhere,” which “imagines a utopic afterlife for victims of racism and police brutality.”  The men and boys who have been killed by racist violence in America now exist in a perpetual, free, summer, where they “earned this paradise/by a death we didn’t deserve.” In that same interview, Smith says they found the writing of the poem cathartic and the chance to “build this world and imagine this alternate ending, to imagine something past what we call an ending.” Book club members all agreed that they were not regular poetry readers. Some don’t like the abstractness of poetry while others find line breaks distracting interruptions. Perhaps because of those preferences and that none of us share Smith’s identities, we probably missed many of their illusions. The poem is distinctly grounded in the Black, male experience (“I am sure there are other heres/somewhere for every kind”) but one reader was disappointed that he didn’t get an emotional connection to the experience of a Black, gay man. Some were put off by vulgarity. However, we all were able to find phrases that resonated and stuck with us.

We talked briefly about the other poems in the book, which was originally two manuscripts, one about “Smith’s personal identity and sexuality . . . the other focused on violence and brutality against black bodies.” There were instances of humor in  “dinosaur in the hood,” for example. More generally, we thought about the poems featured on the local bus service and the local poetry scene. There doesn’t seem to be an ongoing spoken poetry series anymore, but JMRL does host the annual Poetry on the Steps event as part of the Poem in Your Pocket celebration.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the poem
Recommended during discussion

Next meetings:

Posted in LGBTQ Book Club

Don’t forget to grab a poem!


Pop into your local library and be inspired for National Poetry Month!

Attendees at any of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library (JMRL) branches can grab a poem scroll on Thursday, April 25 as part of the annual Poem in Your Pocket Day.

In addition to handing out poems within the library, staff will also be out and about at locations throughout the community, including the Downtown Mall and on the lawn.

But the fun doesn’t stop there…JMRL will also be hosting Poetry on the Steps at 7pm at Central Library on April 25! This is an open mic event, so stop by to share an original poem, read your favorite poem, or just sit back and enjoy.

Both events are sponsored by the Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, with WriterHouse serving as a co-sponsor of the Adult Poetry Contest. This year’s finalist judge is Virginia’s Poet Laureate Henry Hart.

If you’re looking to brush up on some award-winning poetry, check out a list of Pulitzer Prize winners located on the JMRL website. Some examples include:

Half-Light: Collected Poems 1965-2016
By Bidart, Frank
The collected works of one of contemporary poetry’s most original voices. Gathered together, the poems of Frank Bidart perform one of the most remarkable transmutations of the body into language in contemporary literature.

By Jess, Tyehimba
Named a top poetry book of spring 2016 by Library Journal. Part fact, part fiction, Tyehimba Jess’s much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I.

Ozone Journal
By Balakian, Peter
The title poem of Peter Balakian’s Ozone Journal is a sequence of fifty-four short sections, each a poem in itself, recounting the speaker’s memory of excavating the bones of Armenian genocide victims in the Syrian desert with a crew of television journalists in 2009.

For more information about upcoming events and services, visit http://www.jmrl.org.

Poem in Your Pocket Day Events

Poem in Your Pocket Day was created as part of the celebration of National Poetry Month in April and JMRL has been participating for over 10 years. Poem in Your Pocket Day will be celebrated on Thursday, April 25 and all branches of JMRL will be giving out poem scrolls. Besides passing out poems at the libraries, JMRL staffers will also be handing out poems at various locations throughout the community, including on the Downtown Mall and on the lawn.

JMRL will also be holding Poetry on the Steps at 7pm at the Central Library on Thursday, April 25. This is an open mic event available for anyone to come by and read an original poem, read their favorite poem, or just sit back and listen. Refreshments will be served and the winners of the library’s Adult Poetry Contest will be announced. Both events are sponsored by the Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, with WriterHouse serving as a co-sponsor of the Adult Poetry Contest. This year’s finalist judge is Virginia’s Poet Laureate Henry Hart.