The Collegian
Friday, April 19, 2024

Award-winning poet Danez Smith discusses making a difference in campus performance

<p>Danez Smith performed his poems&nbsp;in the International Center Commons on Thursday.&nbsp;</p>

Danez Smith performed his poems in the International Center Commons on Thursday. 

Danez Smith, author of "[insert] boy" and winner of the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, spoke to the Richmond community on Thursday as the last speaker for the 2016-2017 writers series of the fall semester. 

Smith followed author Roxane Gay, who came to campus earlier this year to speak for the writers series and WILL* activism series.

Smith kicked off the night performing 12 of his poems, showing how he combines a humorous tone with controversial issues, specifically those regarding sexuality, race and social justice. Smith’s personality immediately energized the crowded room in the International Center Commons.

“Most writers don’t do that or can’t do that,” Brian Henry, professor of English and creative writing, said. “He’s a singular talent." 

After reading Smith's first book, Henry said: "This is someone whose work you could assign in a class and students would get something out of it. But if we brought him in and people were able to hear him, it’d be a whole other level."

Smith’s performance attracted a variety of people including students, faculty and members of the Richmond community.

“I think for me, as a poet watching another poet perform, it’s incredible just to see how different people process different things," Chris Bolling, a community member, said. "I think from him, I’ve already taken so much."

Most of Smith's poems contained humor, causing the audience to laugh numerous times throughout the performance because of passages such as, “Scooby doo was trying to tell us something when every time that monster mask got snatched off it was a creepy white dude” and “Dogs aren’t racist but they can be trained to be, as can water, as can trees, as can gravity, as can anything.”

Smith emphasized that people shouldn’t wait for one big idea to start writing.

“I don't wait on inspiration. Inspiration is like a drug that artists get hooked on and can’t get themselves off of," Smith said. "The work always enters in strange ways. Your writing process is living.”

Smith went on to discuss the importance of being open to new ideas when writing, sharing that he tries to keep the word “no” out of his artistic process. Smith mentioned that the ultimate goal of his poetry is to make a difference to someone.

“I just hope that they’re useful, especially since I tend to write a lot about stuff that is political,” Smith said. “I want those poems to be useful to somebody else and take from it what they can.”

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Smith’s strategy of combining political ideas into his poems was praised by many audience members.

“People oversee the power of art so I think being able to combine the fluid nature of art and writing with politics is just a beautiful balance,” Bolling said.

Contact reporter Stacey Dec at

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