Counting Descent (Clint Smith)

I went through a short poetry phase in high school, sparked by a unit we did in our AP English class. For whatever reason, that interest dropped off. This year’s Reading Challenge saw me pick it back up, and it has breathed new life into my reading routine. Not every author or type of poetry will speak to every person so don’t be turned off to poetry as a genre if you don’t happen to like what an authority figure has deemed “proper” or “good” poetry. And if you’re not into whatever author or type of poetry is in vogue, that’s fine, too. (If rupi kaur isn’t your thing, we won’t judge you.) I find that it’s like viewing art at a museum: don’t pay attention to the crowds or what’s highlighted in the guidebooks; find whatever speaks to you and go enjoy that.

Title/Year Published – Counting Descent (2016)

Author – Clint Smith (go follow his twitter too)

Page count – 70

Rating – Buy/Borrow/Bypass + Goodreads 4/5

This slim volume focuses on the theme of race, specifically what it means to live as a black man in America. Family relationships and histories are central to this story-telling. Smith plays with capitalization, punctuation, and spacing – a technique I’ve always been drawn to in Emily Dickinson’s work and saw used by Signe Dolores Lepse.

There are two poems that especially struck me. The first is “An Evening at the Louvre.” I just kept reading it over and over. It pulled me in and wouldn’t let me move on to the next page. It’s about love and beauty and existence and what gives us meaning. I don’t know if this is weird, but I kept thinking that this poem would be appropriate to read at either a wedding or a funeral.

The second is “what the cicada said to the black boy” – part of a series interspersed throughout the volume that are all titled “what the ___ said to the black boy.” They read as if something – a cicada, the ocean, a cathedral – is giving advice to a black boy. The ending of “cicada” is just devastating:

why you think we roll in packs?

you think these swarms are for the fun of it?

i would tell you that you don’t roll deep enough


but every time you swarm they shoot

get you some wings son

get you some wings

(excerpt, p. 18)


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