Photographers Unknown, This Need to Be Needed, To Belong
this gin-heavy heaven, blessed ground to think gay & mean me.
bless the fake id & the bouncer who knew
this need to be needed, to belong, to know how
a man taste full on vodka & free of sin. i know not which god to pray to.
i look to christ, i look to every mouth on the dance floor, i order
a whiskey coke, name it the blood of my new savior. he is just.
he begs me to dance, to marvel men with the
of hips i brought, he deems my mouth in some stranger’s mouth necessary.
bless that man’s mouth, the song we sway sloppy to, the beat, the bridge, the length
of his hand on my thigh & back & i know not which country i am of.
i want to live on his tongue, build a home of gospel & gayety
i want to raise a city behind his teeth for all boys of choirs & closets to refuge in.
i wnat my new god to look at the mecca i built him & call it dam good
or maybe i’m just tipsy & free for the first time, willing to worship anything i can tase.
Danez Smith, The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar, Poetry, February 2017
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Danez Smith is an American poet and author who was a First Wave Urban Arts Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 2012. They are genderqueer, non-binary and HIV positive. Their first collection of poetry was the 2013 chapbook “hands on your knees” published by Penmanship Books. Their chapbook “black movie”, published in 2015, won that year’s Button Poetry Prize.
Among other works, Smith is the author of three collections of poetry which received critical acclaim: the 2014 “(insert) Boy” which won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry and was selected as a Boston Globe Best Poetry Book in the same year; the 2017 “Don’t Call Us Dead: poems” which was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry; and the 2020 “Homie” which was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the 2021 NAACP Image Award for Poetry, and the 2021 Minnesota Book Award for Poetry.
In 2018, Danez Smith received the inaugural Four Quartets Prize from the Poetry Society of America for his sonnet sequence entitled “summer, somewhere”. Smith also became, at age twenty-nine, the youngest recipient of the Forward Prize for Best Poetry Collection; their collection of poems “Don’t Call Us Dead” won over works by former Forward winner Vahni Capildeo and U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith.
In addition to other awards for their collections, Danez Smith was the recipient of a 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, the 2016 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and a 2017 NEA Fellowship for Creative Writing. They currently serve on the board of directors for the Washington DC-based poetry non-profit Split This Rock.
Smith and poet and playwright Franny Choi are both co-hosts of the poetry podcast “VS” from the Poetry Foundation. Smith is also a founding member of Wikipedia’s Dark Noise Collective; other founders include Franny Choi, poet and screenwriter Fatimah Asghar, poet and singer/songwriter Jamila Woods, and poets Nate Marshall and Aaron Samuels.
Note ; Poetry Foundation’s VS podcast can be found at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/podcasts/category/142241
One thought on “Danez Smith: “This Need to Be Needed, To Belong””
i related and identified with the poem “they” wrote but referring to “them” is still, to me, significantly confusing. Necessarily so?? i am on my way out so i wish them and they and who all that might include “good luck” with that.