When I read about Danez Smith’s ‘Don’t Call Us Dead’ two years ago, I had no idea that in July 2020, thanks to a pandemic, the Ledbury Poetry Festival and Zoom, this award-winning poet would be live from Minnesota in my kitchen.
Author of the viral phenomenon ‘Dear White America’, Smith reflects and exposes racism, as well as examining sexuality and the experience of being HIV positive. With sentences like ‘Black boys have always been too loud to live’ and ‘Why does it always have to be about race? Because you made it that way!’ the poems ridicule white privilege and lay bare the experience of being black in the US today.
At the online event, Smith, who was in conversation with poet Kaveh Akbar, read ‘my president’ in which the narrator ‘elects’ civil rights activists, social inequality researchers and strangers who have been kind, to be president. Lines like ‘my neighbour who holds the door open when my arms are full of laundry is my president’ and ‘the cab drivers who stop…’ are all the more poignant when you realise why they are listed. In Smith’s experience, these acts of kindness are not commonplace: cab drivers don’t always stop.