National Poetry Month Celebration
Danez Smith is a Cave Canem Fellow, Pushcart Nominee, Survivor & Black Queer from St. Paul, MN. Danez works as a national associate for Youth Speaks – Brave New Voices, the nations largest poetry organization dedicated to engaging youth to use poetry and their voices as a source for social change. Danez is the winner of the 2014 Reading Series Contest sponsored by The Paris-American & was featured in The Academy of American Poets’ Emerging Poets Series by Patricia Smith. Danez is the author of ‘hands on ya knees’, a chapbook (Penmanship Books, 2013). His full-length collection, ‘[insert] Boy, will be published Fall 2014 by YesYes Books. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Magazine, Ploughshares, Indiana Review, Devil’s Lake, Kinfolks & elsewhere. Danez placed 6th in the world at the 2011 Individual World Poetry Slam & is the 2013 Rustbelt Midwest Regional Slam Champion. He writes & lives in Oakland, CA.
Where do you draw your inspiration from to write poetry?
My poetry comes from what makes my heart either fierce with joy or chocked to the point that it grows fist and starts fires. I try not to limit what I write about, anything and everything deserves a poem, but I do frequently write about blackness and the other identities that intersect with it. I’m interested in poems that have a life larger than the poem itself, poems that are actively trying to do something in the world. I’m invested in purpose, but that is not to say that poems can’t just be fun or reflective as well. Heck, sometimes that’s the best way to create change.
What advice do you have for someone that is threatened by poetry?
Threatened? I don’t even know what that means. I would tell them that poetry can be a soft home, a place for everyone to live and breathe and grow. Who is scared of poetry? Well… hopefully the Tea Party. Or the racist institutions that run our country. You know who is scared of poetry? Governments, that’s why poets are the first folks arrested in other countries. There are a ridiculous amount of artist living in exile. That is so sad, but also speaks to the power of poetry and art. I’m hoping that one day we can get to that point here. Not of exile or danger, but that art can really be the wave maker that brings the sea-change. You know what? We aren’t far off. The art is there, it’s just about changing how we as Americans and people living in America (there is a difference) consume and treat non-mainstream/commercial/sprite commercial art.
What is an interesting fact about you?
In high school, I had a cooking segment on a local MN TV show called “Cooking with Danez!” It was horrible. My grandma yelled at me for not using the good plates (we filmed in my house). I guess it played in Arizona too. Some woman from Phoenix came up to me and asked if I was the kid from the cooking show just last week. I ran. I want to leave that part of my past behind. Wait… I just told you… keep that a secret!
Where are you from/Where do you live?
From St. Paul, MN. Live in Oakland, CA.
From a land of snow and white folks for days.
Live in the land of sun and sun-ripe people of all colors.
Who is your favorite poet?
Poets are like Pringles so… I can’t just one.
5 poets who have shaped my voice: Patricia Smith, Ross Gay, Lucille Clifton, Douglas Kearney, and Suheir Hammad
15 emerging poets you need to go google right now: Franny Choi, Aaron Samuels, Jamila Woods, Nate Marshall, Angel Nafis, Saeed Jones, Hieu Nguyen, Sam Sax, Morgan Parker, Michael Lee, Ocean Vuong, Megan Falley, Katelyn Lucas, & Sarah Bruno