If there's one word that describes award-winning poet Danez Smith, it's "unapologetic." Smith is a black, queer, HIV-positive poet who became a YouTube sensation after one of their spoken word poems, "Dear White America," went viral—and when they appear to perform, they bring their full self to the stage.
"You're always going to get The Danez Smith Show, for sure," Smith said in advance of their appearance in Boise on Tuesday, Nov. 27, as part of The Cabin's Ghosts & Projectors poetry reading series. "...I'm never gonna show up and not be gay, or not be queer. I'm never gonna show up and not be black. I'm never gonna show up and not care about the world, or care about my people, or care about people. I'm never gonna show up and probably not be political. I'm never gonna show up to these places and not point us both toward love and toward difficult conversations and toward violence or whatever. I kind of only know how to be myself. So even though I'm thinking about the audience, I can't show up and be anything but the poet that I am. I can't show up and be somebody else's poet."
Smith looks at spoken word poetry as an art of communication "just shy of singing," a way to create a bridge between a poem and its audience. They also see it, and poetry itself, as a political tool.
"I think anything you choose to talk about in a poem is political, right? If I talk about a flower, that's a frickin' choice. And what I'm gonna say about that flower is probably also political. Love is political, death is political—what the hell isn't politics?"
An addition to performing, Smith has published nationally acclaimed books of poetry including Hands On Ya Knees; [Insert] Boy, which won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry; Black Movie, which scored a Button Poetry Prize; and the National Book Award finalist Don't Call Us Dead. Their newest work, Homie, will hit shelves in 2020.
When Smith appears in Boise to perform at The Linen Building alongside poets Yoshyhwh Ben Yisrael and K Lange, they said they won't blink in the face of controversy.
"I'm aware of what Idaho's political climate is like," they said, "and so that will be something I'll put into consideration, not to edit, but to push."