Review: Homie

Celebrated poet Danez Smith (Don't Call Us Dead) delivers a rapturous cry for all their friends and lovers in the profoundly moving collection Homie.

Smith writes with both power and precision, and their poetic forms are as diverse as their topics. Homie teems with stream-of-conscious prose poetry and in equal measure gleams with lapidary stanzas of more formalized verse. Even part of the book's acknowledgements section is set in poetic fashion. Smith is also a master of shape poetry, pushing words around the page in ways that are novel yet somehow essential to the flow of language. Their personal style mixes modern slang with gorgeous imagery, resulting in verse as colorful and fanciful as Pablo Neruda but also savvy, down-to-earth, close to the heart.

Thematically, Homie focuses on friendship, as the poet celebrates the beloved people in and out of their life. The poet's blackness and queerness frame struggles and larger questions of kinship. They invoke friends, lovers, family members, other minority groups and even strangers. These people are exalted by the searching love that drives these poems. In "my president," the poet shouts out to the "trans girl making songs in her closet, spinning the dark/ into a booming dress." In "what was said at the bus stop," the poet reaches out to a Pakistani girl: "i have stood by you in the soft shawl of morning/ waiting & breathing & waiting." And there's boundless love for fellow dark-skinned people, "we caramelized children/ of dark stars."

As much as the collection is grounded in love, there's a hard-won ferocity in belonging, even moments of violence. "To make/ his mouth a sparkling smashed tomato," Smith writes of beating a man to defend family in "jumped!" And as the target of violence, the poet remembers "the bottoms of their shoes the sweet of a well-chewed eraser." These are relationships forged by suffering, by the act of surviving. Homie doesn't gloss over the oppression black people have suffered at the hands of white people. But neither does the poet slam the door on the possibility of love and reconciliation: "if you/ come to my door thirsty, i'll turn the faucet & fill/ the glass. if I come to your stoop, don't shoot." The poet's queerness likewise marginalizes them but only in the eyes of oppressors. In these poems, queerness becomes something of strangeness and beauty that makes human connection even richer.

Homie is a rousing paean to the people who matter most, including those lost but still fondly remembered. The collection is filled with passion and humanity and demonstrates why Smith has been called one of the best poets of their generation. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Shelf Talker: Danez Smith celebrates friendship in this immensely readable and glorious poetry collection.

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