Why I Chose Danez Smith’s Homie for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club

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Probably the first thing you’ll notice upon opening Danez Smith’s newest collection, Homie, (assuming you’re not some kind of anarchist who just pops a collection open to a random page and starts reading) is that it has two title pages. Danez posted this on Twitter back in September.

That Twitter thread is worth reading through both because it’s a celebration of the choice to give this book both titles and also because of the way Smith responds to white people who seem to me to be mourning the idea that they won’t be able to read aloud/teach/share/recommend this book or the poems within it because of the prominence of the n-word. In the thread, Smith writes, “I legit don’t want white folks to read some of these poems aloud. They can take them in, but not aloud unless they know how to not gleefully say the n-word (nigga to us but the n-word to them).” And that’s how I approached this book, and how I approach any piece of writing/art with that word in it. It’s there for me to take in but not for me to say. And there’s so much take in from these poems.

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Homie, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Danez Smith, you’ll need to subscribe by November 15th!

Homie opens with a poem titled “my president,” which begins with the election of “jonathan, eleven & already making roads out of water / young genius, blog writer, lil community activist, curls tight / as pinky swears, black as my nation” and continues through an exquisite list of presidents, from writer/scholar activist Eve Ewing to celebrities like Colin Kaepernick and Rihanna.

& my mama is my president, her grace stunts
on amazing, brown hands breaking brown bread over
mouths of the hungry until there are none unfed

& my grandma is my president & her cabinet is her cabinet
cause she knows to trust what the pan knows
how the skillet wins the war

& the man i saw high kicking his way down the river?
he is my president

& the trans girl making songs in her closet, spinning the dark
into a booming dress? she too is my president

In this relatively short space, Smith invokes family and community and race and queerness and joy and all the possibility of life. Near the end of the poem, Smith writes “o my presidents!…. / show me to our nation / my only border is my body,” and the rest of the book takes the reader to this nation with all the joys and sadnesses a place so wide must contain.

I hope you’ll join the Rumpus Poetry Book Club so we can talk together about these poems throughout the month and then in our exclusive author chat with Danez Smith. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by November 15th to make sure you don’t miss out!


Brian Spears's first collection of poetry, A Witness in Exile, is now available through Louisiana Literature Press, and at his personal website. He is Senior Poetry Editor at The Rumpus. More from this author →