18 pages 36 minutes read

Danez Smith

alternate names for black boys

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2014

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “alternate names for black boys”

“alternate names for black boys” is an accumulation of lyric images into a list. Numbering the items 1 through 17 in ascending order creates sufficient order in the poem, freeing the images to be distinct, independent entities. However, there emerges a complex discordance—and even a paradoxical quality—both within and between individual items; altogether, the experience of reading the poem mirrors the not-easily-resolved experiences of Black boys, giving the reader a taste for the feeling and challenging them to accept and affirm the experiences of others.

Though the images are varied and even seemingly disparate, the poem creates meaningful relationships between them through occasional repetition, modulated tone, and the cumulative effect of all images together. Some items echo one another, such as Lines 8 (“gone”) and 10 (“going, going, gone”), as well as Lines 5 (“guilty until proven dead”) and 7 (“monster until proven ghost”). Limited repetition creates a sense of progression as the reader is rewarded for reading the items in the presented order and for remembering the previous items as they encounter new ones.

Changes in tone also move the poem forward and develop themes; the images that conjure awe and wonder are sobered by those with violent associations, and the more direct lines contrast against those whose meaning is only implicit.