[insert] boy by danez smith
YesYes Books, 2014; 116 pp
reviewed by Wesley Rothman


Danez Smith’s [insert] Boy is a place of astounding and silencing honesty, a place where lovers, loved ones, haters, and handguns all draw blood, over and again. It is a place where a boy offers his mouth, all its full-bodied song, its affection and bruise, a place where the mouth is a means of survival. These poems explore male intimacy, its complexities and vulnerabilities, and repeatedly begs calls out our contemporary social politics: sexual taboos, racial bigotry, “normalcy” in all its tainted sound, how we heal our bodies and spirits, how they fail to heal, how they are beaten and loved. Smith manages to translate his cathedral-filling performance presence onto the page, and devastates poetry’s formal possibilities, wrecking and ripping them up for new ground and new sound. From anaphoric to numbered list poems, prose meditations to couplets, commandments to letters to craigslist ads, jagged stanzas and justified, to a dazzling innovation: the sestina-crown-remix. Smith’s full-blown jabs of language and metaphor, history and experience devour a reader—NOTE: THIS BOOK WILL KNOCK YOU ON YOUR ASS!—and the narrative sway balanced by a lyrical improvisation prove that this poet can do it all. Great poetry books juggle dozens of jackhammers, chainsaws, puppies, and violins; [insert] Boy sends them all up in flame and keeps on juggling. Danez Smith is a person and poet who will go where the rest of us are apprehensive, terrified by what we may find, and he has the unbelievable skill to make it stunning. This debut feels more like a crescendo, and terrifies me a bit to imagine what might come next, what Smith might do with more time and space and sound. Some previews of [insert] Boy are found here and here and here.