"I Got the Cell Count Blues:" Danez Smith, HIV, and the Legacy of the Black Arts Movement

  • Toni R. Juncosa University of Barcelona
Keywords: Danez Smith, Black Arts Movement, HIV/AIDS, imprisonment, indefinite detention


This paper connects Danez Smith’s collection of poems Don’t Call Us Dead (2017) to writing by the poet’s predecessors in the Black Arts Movement. I argue that Smith’s expression of HIV in their poetry continues and updates the denunciation of mass incarceration of, as well as structural violence against, non-white US citizens. My goal is to analyze intertextuality and the main topoi in Smith’s poetry as elements contributing to the extension of the BAM’s attempt to raise awareness and create Black self-determination and nationhood (Neal 1969). To do so, I read Smith’s work in light of contemporary thought, focusing on Judith Butler’s (2004) ideas of grievability, indefinite detention, and the hierarchies of death.