This Year’s NBCC Award Finalists: Homie by Danez Smith
Diego Báez on One of the Finalists for Poetry
During this month we’ll be sharing the National Book Critics Circle’s appreciations of this year’s NBCC Award finalists. The awards will be presented virtually on March 25th, 7pm EST.
Homie by Danez Smith (Graywolf)
This third, highly anticipated collection of poetry from Smith has been praised for its “startling originality and ambition,” recognized as “deeply moving and funny,” and called an “electrifying, unabashedly queer ode to friendship and community.” As in their previous work, Smith combines the exuberant energy of live performance with a profound sense of formal play, resulting in poems that traverse registers and vernaculars with ease. Homie also includes the invention of a new poetic form, called the “dozen,” after “the dozens,” a game that originated in Black and African-American communities, in which competitors exchange witty insults. Very much a voice of the present moment, Smith’s lyrics sing Black lives and experiences, with references to gold teeth and ’90s R&B, but also reverence paid to innocence lost and stolen: “our histories stink / of interruption, our long stories impossible / to tell for real without their names / which became our names.” Homie is also an unflinching confrontation with white supremacist culture, as Smith not only calls out injustice, but articulates the toll that reciprocity exacts (“i don’t like thinking about doing to white folks // what white folks done to us”), while also pulling into focus unfortunate realities that so often go unspoken: “so many white people are alive // because we know how to control ourselves.” And while the book should certainly be read by white people, it’s absolutely not for them. Smith makes abundantly clear for whom he writes: “the leather daddy who always stops to say good morning // & the boy crying on the train & the sudden abuela who rubs his back / & the uncle who offers him water & the drag queen who begins to hum.”