Danez Smith

hands on ya kneeshands on ya knees (Penmanship Books, 2013)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

I really love Drum Percussion (Button Poetry, 2014) by Nate Marshall. That books brings me to tears with its devastating portrait of black boyhood and the world that seeks to end it. His craft is amazing and is the perfect vessel for an imperfect story. Also, there is a chapbook series called Seven New Generation African Poets that will knock your socks off. All 7 are so, so lovely. The chapbooks by Ladan Osman in particular make my heart sing.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The first poem was “Twerking as a Radical Form of Healing”. I wrote it as part of a 30/30 I was doing in April 2013, and I just couldn’t stop writing poems about twerking & the body & owning that shit. I was on a Megabus coming back from a little tour of Michigan and just couldn’t stop writing the whole ride. I maybe wrote 4 of the poems in the book on that bus ride. I didn’t plan on making a chapbook, but Mahogany Browne, the editor for Penmanship Books, saw the poems I was posting on Facebook and approached me about making a chapbook. Done deal.

What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?

The body. I hate the body. Not really, I love it. But that’s all I write about. EVERYTHING LEADS BACK TO THE BODY!!! The book uses twerking and dance as a tool to speak about sexual assault, healing, desire, and all the things in the world that concern hips.

How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? What were some of its earlier titles?

This book was the one chance I had to name a book after a line from “The Cha Cha Slide.” I had to take it.

Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?

I want someone to ask me about what I’m doing with lyric and meter, but I ain’t gonna talk to myself…. anymore.

What are you working on now?

I just released by first full length collection [insert] boy with YesYes Books. It deals with masculinity at intersections of race, sexuality, sex work, family, and trauma. I’m trying to build a boy that kinda looks like me in it, while writing poems for other boys to find themselves in.

What is your writing practice or process?

You know, who really has that special of a process? Its all word docs and paper, right? I listen to ignorant music and try to write elegance, or I listen to some high class stuff like Nina Simore or Miles Davis and write little ratchet poems about things I do with men.

Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?

O, revision is where the real shit happens! I put on some disrespectful rap and edit like I don’t like the person who wrote the poem. I try to be a ruthless self editor. I throw shade at my poems until I love them. It’s ok to love your poems, right?

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

I would warn them that chapbooks are fun and dangerous: great vessel for an idea that doesn’t need to be full length (at the moment) but also they provide less cover up if you messin up in dem poems. I assert that chapbooks are actually harder to write. Those things have to be SHARP!

What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?

Is you nasty?


Danez Smith is the winner of a 2014 Ruth Lilly/Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He is the author of [insert] boy (2014, YesYes Books). He is a Cave Canem, VONA, and McKnight Foundation Fellow. He lives in Minneapolis, MN. Ludacris was his favorite rapper for years. He is a founding member of the multi-genre, multicultural Dark Noise Collective. Danez placed second at the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam. He holds a BA from UW-Madison where he was a First Wave Urban Arts Scholar.




twerking as a radical act of healing

when your song plays, steal your body
back out the gut of that brute/beast/boy

sweat the bile off, unlearn the word acid
dance until the room falls down around you

bend your knees because you want to
not for any god or dirty nails in your shoulder

go down knowing there is still a sky
to rise towards. give your scars to the strobes

bathe in lightning, wait for whatever
kind of salvation basements bring. twerk

& ain’t that the best prayer? tonight, you left
his ghost at home, left a note

for him to pack his ghost-shit & leave
by the time the sun soars in your honor.

honey, you’re here & that’s it’s own psalm.
don’t let nobody look at you & not know
they looking at the risen. this how you write

free all over your bones & for the first time
free doesn’t mean how his hands mistook you
for air, but how you were made to be

like water, like a hawk, like a doe mid leap
like a storm, like a child, like a song.


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