Arts & Culture » Lit

At Ghosts & Projectors, Poets Tackle The Big Three: Religion, Gender and Race

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Danez Smith, reading at Ghosts & Projectors. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Danez Smith, reading at Ghosts & Projectors.
Poets K Lange, Yoshyhwh Ben Yisrael and Danez Smith each pen turns of phrase with their own distinct flair, and use different tones for spoken word and slam readings. But on Nov. 28, when they appeared at the Linen Building in Boise to read their work for The Cabin's Ghosts & Projectors reading series, they pushed the audience toward the same idea one by one: that it's vital to ask questions—of nature, of God and perhaps most importantly of yourself.

K Lange, reading at Ghosts & Projectors. - MACKENZIE MCDERMOTT
  • Mackenzie McDermott
  • K Lange, reading at Ghosts & Projectors.
Lange, a Boise-based poet and teacher, kicked off the night with a series of poems that ranged in topic from Alzheimer's and airplanes to fig wasps, ukuleles and gender identity. This last proved to be one of the major themes of the night, which Danez—who, like Lange, uses a "them" pronoun—would revisit later in poem after poem.

"I'm going to read you some poems about gender, because it's fake—so buckle up," Lange told the gathered crowd.

The works that followed, named simply "Gender 1,"
"Gender 2" and "Gender 3," confronted ideas about femininity, identity and even religion.

Yoshyhwh Ben Yisrael, reading at Ghosts & Projectors. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Yoshyhwh Ben Yisrael, reading at Ghosts & Projectors.
"I have been on my knees in a great many ways, and none of them have ever taught me any penance," Lange read, eliciting an appreciative murmur from the audience.



After Lange, award-winning Texas slam poet Yoshyhwh Ben Yisrael took the floor, doubling down on Lange's rhetoric on religion and also introducing another topic that would prove a flashpoint for the night—race.

His first poem, "Hurricane," juxtaposed facts about hurricanes with bullet points about the slave trade, twining the two together over The Middle Passage. Despite the thousands of Africans buried under the waters where hurricanes originate, he said to a crowd holding its breath, "They are still giving them European names."

Then in a powerful, statistics-packed poem titled "Savior's Day," Yisrael spoke on the divisiveness of religion and its imprints on the world, repeating, "God is on the ground with the failures, dirty needles, burning buildings and malfunctioning rocket ships."

Later in the poem, he added that deities and prophets ascending to heaven makes them "more escape artists than saviors."

Though Yisrael and Lange had already wound up the crowd with their rhetoric, when National Book Award Finalist Danez Smith took the podium their energy was like a powder keg exploding in the room.

"Hopefully nobody kills me after this reading," they told the crowd, before diving into a slate of poems that delved into everything from the 2016 election to the murders of black drag queens, autofellatio, dogs (a race metaphor), gender norms, Emmett Till, racial violence and much, much more.

Danez Smith, reading at Ghosts & Projectors. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Danez Smith, reading at Ghosts & Projectors.

During an emotional performance that included laughter, teary eyes and trembling hands, Danez never missed a chance to remind the mostly white audience of how far apart it stood from them, and didn't hesitate to press buttons in their poetry that many visiting a conservative state would understandably choose to goose-step around.

"I'm in Idaho, ya'll need this s***," they told the crowd after performing their viral spoken-word poem "Dear White America."

Lines like "If you're trying to avoid me to stay alive and I'm trying to avoid you to stay alive, what is that the definition of?" were met with a hum of audience reaction.

At the end of the night, Danez looked out on the crowd and dropped the mic with a gut punch.

"I don't know if you all noticed, but once [my reading] turned to race the applause stopped," they told the assembled group. "Think about that on the way home."

A standing ovation ushered them out.