It wasn’t an exceptionally nice evening out—it was rainy, dark, and cold. However, despite the weather, a reasonably-sized swarm of people were walking in the direction of the Hirshson Ballroom. Inside was a completely different world: the room was bright, and full of light and energy as much as it was full of people. As Associate Professor of English Kathryn Cowles said, people were “hanging from the rafters,” standing in the aisles, sitting in places where no seats were left. The sheer number of students in attendance was an incredible anomaly, especially for this campus, but it was a crowd well-deserved for a poet as incredible as Danez Smith.
Danez Smith, the Trias spring weeklong writer in residence and the individual recognized at the most recent Trias reading, is self-described as “a Black, queer, poz writer & performer from St. Paul, MN.” They have received distinctions as prestigious as fellowships from the Poetry Foundation and National Endowment of the Arts, and their work has appeared in The New York Times, Buzzfeed, Best American Poetry, and even on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert – though despite rising popularity and recognition, their most impressive accomplishment remains the same: their poetry.
Most people are aware of and willing to acknowledge the artistry and power behind writing, especially for poetry. However, Smith’s poetry feels like an entirely different category – even when compared to more contemporary and unconventional writings. The poignant, raw, and authentic nature of their work—both in terms of the messages being conveyed and the ways in which they were articulated—was striking, facilitating all sorts of responses from a receptive and engaged audience. We laughed with Smith as they told us poetry was “like a good kind of drug,” as they defined insults as a “type of currency that exists between friends.” We snapped our fingers mid-stanza to express how profoundly some words resonated with us, while Smith popped holes in the status quo, wondering out loud with us how the world can possibly exist the way it is. We cried, remembering lives lost to diseases of the body and mind, tears welling up alongside rage towards institutionalized racism, sexism, and homophobia. Smith was the narrator who fabricated our collective dream through words: a world in which each and every one of us is guaranteed the same fundamental rights and treatment, where we are all regarded as human beings.
The hour came and went before anyone had the chance to notice time was passing. In Danez Smith’s words, “We ain’t got all the time in the world, but I wish we did.” I speak for the audience when I say that Danez, we wish we did, too. When we emerged from the Hirshson Ballroom and walked into the rain, somehow there was sunshine.
Anyone interested in learning more about Danez Smith or purchasing their work can do so via Smith’s web site, www.danezsmithpoet.com. Their current books of poetry include Don’t Call Us Dead, [insert] boy, hands on your knees, and black movie.