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Dark Noise Collective Part III: Danez Smith and Jamila Woods

The third and final installment of F’s profile of the Dark Noise literary collective, a multiracial group of writers who are bringing awareness and diversifying Chicago poetry.

By Arts & Culture, Literature

illustration by Amber Huff.

Fatimah Asghar, Franny Choi, Nate Marshall, Aaron Samuels, Danez Smith, and Jamila Woods — otherwise known as The Dark Noise Collective — have made it their mission to rework and rewrite the standards of the literary world. On their Facebook page, they refer to themselves as a “multiracial, multi-genre collective featuring some of the most exciting, insightful, and powerful spoken word artists performing today.”

F Newsmagazine continues its profile of Dark Noise. If you’re just catching up with this, see Parts I and II.

Part III: Danez Smith and Jamila Woods

Danez Smith is healing souls through twerking. He is also an acclaimed poet. He is a Cave Canem Fellow, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship recipient, a two-time Pushcart nominee, a Best New Poets nominee, and has received numerous other accolades. He is deeply involved in facilitating the dialogue on what it means to be a gay black poet in America and he is not letting anyone tune out while doing so. In his “Open Letter to White Poets,” he urges that “we must create work that refuses to leave this world the same as when we entered. We do not have the luxury of only writing the selfish confession, we must testify in our court of craft that these poems we write are bold, unflinching, and unwilling to stay idle in a geography of madness.”

F News: What do you think Dark Noise has to provide to the poetry community that other collectives don’t?

Danez Smith: I don’t know if we do. I do know that we just have an internal energy that can be inspirational to younger folks to get together and collectivize themselves. In terms of plans for the future, we definitely want to increase our community-making and institutionalize that in some way.

F News: You are a first year MFA student at the University of Michigan. How has your experience been there so far? I see that you have quite an extensive travel schedule. How do you balance traveling and MFA life?

DS: So far so good! I only have class two days out of the week so I have some room to connect with my cohort and do homework.

F News: I heard that you’re doing quite a bit of teaching in Michigan — including Detroit. What do you think you gain from teaching and what do you think your students are gaining?

DS: Yes, I am teaching at this middle school program in Detroit called Inside Out. I gain a lot because it allows me to redefine what poetry is. I think they gain better tools to understand the world around them and the ability to have fun with poetry.

F News: “Don’t Call Us Dead” is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2017. What are some inspirations for the book and how is this book different from “[insert] boy?”

DS: I would say Don’t Call Us Dead” embraces more blackness. It starts with a long poem imagining the ultimate afterlife that is exclusive to black men; a heaven only for black boys. The rest stems from my journaling from the first month after I found out that I’m HIV positive.

F News: Who are some poets you are keeping your eye on or excited about nowadays?

DS: I haven’t taken out Ross Gay’s “Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude” out of my bag since I got it. I also have been able to read Morgan Parker’s second collection; she’s a good friend.

We must testify in our court of craft that these poems we write are bold, unflinching, and unwilling to stay idle in a geography of madness.

Jamila Woods is the songstress of the group. She is the front woman of the soul-duo band Milo & Otis, is also a poet, playwright, teaching artist, Pushcart Prize nominee, and a Ruth Lilly recipient along with Nate and Danez. Her poetry is influenced by Toni Morrison, Lucille Clifton, and Gwendolyn Brooks. She describes herself as a “Coconut Oil Kind of Woman” who works with the poetry of music and the music of poetry. She parses together the soul, scent, and sound of feminine identity with arresting lyricism.

Together, the collective sings the songs of their ancestors — brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers — into the poetic rhythms of today. They belt for the justice of those that have been wronged in our world. To read their poems and stories is to engage with the howls of our afflicted generation who are trying to make sense of a slow healing that can save lives.

You can follow The Dark Noise Collective here:

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