In-Depth Look: Danez Smith – “Trees”

In-Depth Look: Danez Smith – “Trees”

Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.

“Look, y’all: they look like slow green explosions…”

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Write-up by Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre


Get Guante’s Book Here
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Spoken word is “a thing that people can do,” in that anyone can write a poem, stand up in front of other people, and say it out loud. But it’s also something deeper than that– it’s a community, a movement, a culture in which certain practices, ideas, and impulses are shared.

So we can talk about an individual poem by itself, focusing on things like structure, word choice, and performance– but we can also talk about an individual poem in the context of that culture. We can talk about how it exists in dialogue with other poems. We can talk about how the poem “works” on a slam stage, vs. in a literary journal, vs. in a cypher with a bunch of friends, vs. at a political rally. People are free to disagree with me on this, but one thing I really appreciate about spoken word and slam poetry– as culture– is this acknowledgement that context matters, that who we are, where we are, and who is listening all impact what the poem “is.”

This poem is brilliant and beautiful in a vacuum, sure. Danez is one of the best writers in the world. But what really strikes me about this poem is how it plays with context. For example, all of the names listed are real people; I know some of them, and that impacts how I hear the poem. But here’s a deeper example: people outside of poetry circles may not be aware that the phrase “poems about trees” is very often shorthand for a kind of “traditional,” MFA-informed, white-centered, aggressively apolitical poetry that is often set up as a foil for the current spoken word movement. So Danez taking the *archetype* of that style of poetry, and flipping it so powerfully, serves to also demolish the very idea that there has to be some kind of binary approach to poems, that they can either be “about trees” or “about real shit.” The poem isn’t just substantive; it’s also subversive. This is what culture-shifting work looks like.

Find more from Danez on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! Make sure to check out Danez’s book, BLACK MOVIE.


Get Danez’s Book Here
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While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, William Evans, Guante, Rachel Wiley, & our newest release from Neil Hilborn!

Danez Smith – “Peter” (Button Live)


Performing at Button Poetry Live.
“Your dick is drunk with power and highly flammable.”

Don’t miss this marvelous poem from Danez Smith, performing at Button Poetry Live.



While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Mahogany L. Browne, Olivia Gatwood, Hanif Abdurraqib, Jacqui Germain, Aaron Coleman, Donte Collins, Sabrina Benaim, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Rudy Francisco, & our newest releases from Stevie Edwards and Claire Schwartz!

Danez Smith – “Self Portrait as a 90s R&B Video”

Performing at Button Poetry Live

“There’s a room in my basement filled with water and gold and that’s it.”

Don’t miss this incredible poem from Danez Smith performing at Button Poetry Live, July 2016. Check out Danez’s book here. And if you’re in the Twin Cities, don’t miss the next Button Poetry Live show, first Monday of every month in downtown Saint Paul.

While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Hanif Abdurraqib, Jacqui Germain, Sam Sax & more.

Danez Smith – “If They Find A Lake on Mars I’m Getting the Fuck Out”

Performing at Inside Voices

“My body is an asteroid destroyed even when it’s speeding
away from the the earth.”

Don’t miss this excellent poem from Danez Smith, featuring at Inside Voices in Minneapolis. Check out Danez’s book here. And if you’re in the Twin Cities, don’t miss the next Button Poetry Live show, first Monday of every month in downtown Saint Paul.

While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including books by Neil Hilborn, Hanif Abdurraqib, Jacqui Germain, Sam Sax & more.

Danez Smith – “Dear White America” (250K Views!)

“I count my brothers, and in the morning when some do not
survive to be counted, I count the holes they leave.”

Congratulations to Button author Danez Smith on topping 250,000 views on this powerful poem. Check out this poem and more from Danez in his book, black movie.



And while you’re here, make sure to check out our other books and merch as well, including our awesome t-shirts and poster and new books by Jacqui Germain, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Aaron Coleman!

Best of Button Week 78

“Paradise is a world where everything is a sanctuary and nothing is a gun.”

Don’t miss this week’s Best of Button playlist, featuring the top-viewed recent videos on the Button YouTube Channel. Today’s additions: Danez Smith, Blythe Baird & Taylor Seaberg. Congratulations poets!
While you’re here on our site, make sure to check out our books and merchandise in the Button Store, including books by Aziza Barnes, Danez Smith, Neil Hilborn and our JUST-RELEASED book from Hanif Abdurraqib!

Danez Smith – “Alternate Heaven for Black Boys” (Rustbelt 2016)

Performing at the Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam.

“Paradise is a world where everything is a sanctuary and nothing is a gun.”

Don’t miss this incredible new poem from Danez Smith, performing during finals at the 2016 Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam in Columbus, Ohio. Check out Danez’s brilliant book here.
While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out all of our books and merch, including Button t-shirts in both female and unisex cuts, and books and more by many of your favorite Button artists.

Button Round-Up 10

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It’s the weekend, so you know what that means. The Button Round-Up is back with another exciting installment! Dive with us into the magical world of the poetry-related internet.

Buzzwords Poetry Competition 2016
This one’s for our fans across the pond! Our own Chapbook Contest is now in full swing (and open to international submitters!), but the Buzzwords Poetry Competition can be a great way to submit your poems if you don’t have a full manuscript and are living in the UK. Submissions close on August 7th.

Poet Activist Spotlight: Jacqui Germain
One of Button’s newest authors, Jacqui Germain, recently did a wonderful interview with Stevie Edwards from Ploughshares at Emerson College. Jacqui speaks about her own poetic influences and her work as a community organizer and activist. Don’t forget to check out Jacqui’s book, When the Ghosts Come Ashore, after you read this interview!

“Why Poetry is the Best Medium for Kids Who Want to Change the World” by Ketherine Brooks
Last week was the 19th annual Brave New Voices festival, featuring over 500 kids from 55 cities participating in the poetry slam tournament. Featuring Button author Danez Smith, this article goes on to affirm the positive benefits of youth slams and young kids expressing themselves through spoken word poetry.

Verbalise
If you are a young poet still trying to figure out your way into spoken word, then Verbalise is just for you! Starting next week in Birmingham, Verbalise is a four-week program offering classes and one-on-one mentoring that can give you the tools to launch your own career in spoken word poetry. It’s not too late to sign up!

“On Continuing the Work of Who Carried Us Here” by Hanif Abdurraqib
Celebrating the release of his debut book The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, Button author Hanif Abdurraqib is back in this week’s Round-Up with another essay. Unlike the past two weeks, with his regular music features, Hanif is reflecting on the release of his book, and how to be thankful to and honor those who have made it possible to get where he is today. Writing more a love letter than an essay, Hanif is back with his usual brilliance.

“for lee buencamino” by Mae Verano
To close out this week’s Round-Up, here is a short but sweet poem by Mae Verano. A member of the Brown 2016 CUPSI team, Mae Verano’s “for lee buencamino” is haunting in it’s brevity. “how lucky am i to speak your words / savor that same story / and still stand here / existing.” How lucky we all are to have this piece this weekend.

That’s all for this week, folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed your time here, and read something that will make some kind of impact, no matter how small, on your week moving forward. See you next Saturday!

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Spencer Brownstein is a poet, student, and Button staffer living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves beanies, dogs, and a nice cigarette after dinner.

Danez Smith – “Oooooh, You Look Like” (AWP 2016)

Performing at AWP 2016.

“Just what the fuck does Kenneth look like?”
Don’t miss this hilarious poem from Danez Smith, performing at the 2016 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. Subscribe to us on YouTube to stay up to date on all these amazing performances.
While you’re here, head over to the Button store to check out our books and merch, including Button t-shirts in both female and unisex cuts, and books and more by many of your favorite Button artists, including Danez!

Link Round-Up 2

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Holy wow, it’s been another great week in poetry! Take a look at some of the newest poems, essays, and lists floating around the internet:

Literary Juneteenth (or Why I Left the Offing) – This piece technically came out last week, but it is too important and too well-written to not feature. Casey Rocheteau explores some of the racial inequities and specific instances of ignorance that led her to leave the Offing. Intention can only take you so far, especially as an editor working for a magazine that seeks to uplift and empower marginalized voices.

“It Doesn’t Feel Like a Time to Write” – Button author Danez Smith, back at it again with the evocative, urgent poems. He presents readers with an honest portrait of exhaustion, of how a continual state of mourning and fear wears on black people in America. An especially important piece for those whose reaction to the murder of unarmed black people is to insist on more information, more calm reason from affected communities, more, more, more.

Three Poems by Rachel McKibbens – If you know Rachel’s work, you know she has two full-length collections and one chapbook already published (Pink Elephant, Into the Dark and Emptying Field, and Mammoth), and you are probably waiting anxiously for a third book. Here are a few poems from her third manuscript, published in Vinyl earlier this week. These poems vibrate with elegantly depicted pain, never melodramatic, but clear and tightly constructed.

Poetry Foundation Launches Poetry Incubator – Applications are open until June 1st for the first ever Poetry Incubator and Chicago Poetry Block Party. This is a three-day program meant to encourage professional development and collaboration for poets engaged with their communities. The weekend ends with a block party celebrating poetry, community, and Chicago. This is open to writers across the country, so get those applications in!

SPIT POET! 5 Poetry Collectives You Should Know – Taylor Steele, an amazing poet herself, is also writing a column highlighting emerging writers you should know about. In this piece, we get introduced to five poetry collectives, including Dark Noise and divine fabrics, two groups that include Button authors, Danez Smith and Aziza Barnes respectively. You get collective information, poems and interviews, everything you need to develop your love of these incredible talents.

DOGBYTES INTERVIEW: Camille Rankine – Author of Incorrect Merciful Impulses, (Copper Canyon Press 2016), Camille Rankine is interviewed in a new blog project from Cave Canem, an esteemed writing retreat for African-American writers. The interview covers her thoughts on the place of social justice in poetry, book recommendations, and the secret to driving in the snow.

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Anna Binkovitz is a poet and Button staffer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She loves pizza, red wine, and honest writing with a lyrical twist.