Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith review – hope in resistance and rebirth

Anger, generosity and dark humour electrify a collection that confronts America racism and speaks urgently for change

In addressing US national identity and collectivism, Danez Smith (who goes by the gender-neutral pronoun “they”) echoes the plural, expanded lyric voices of poets such as Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes. Like Smith’s prize-winning debut collection, [insert] boy, their follow-up Don’t Call Us Dead excoriates America for its violence towards citizens outside a white heterosexual majority. But whereas Ginsberg resolved finally, if reluctantly, in his poem “America” to put his “queer shoulder to the wheel” of the American project, Smith declares it dead. In the apocalyptic age of Trump, a man who “has no words / & hair beyond simile”, Smith prophesies an end from which a new beginning might spring.

Throughout Don’t Call Us Dead, hope appears as a form of resistance and rebirth. ...