18 pages 36 minutes read

Danez Smith

alternate names for black boys

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2014

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Literary Devices

Form and Meter

“alternate names for black boys” is a free-verse poem, meaning that it follows no fixed meter or rhyme scheme. However, it also belongs to a category of poetry called list poetry, or catalogue verse. A list poem is simply that: a list, whether it itemizes lone words, sentences, or ideas. A famous list poem is Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” (1860), which lists the many things the speaker hears. In Smith’s poem, the title clarifies that the listed items are names for “black boys,” though the names are figurative and ultimately embody different aspects of Black boyhood as the poet sees it. Moreover, what differentiates a list poem from an everyday list (e.g., a grocery list) is that list poems have a narrative or subtext; in this poem, the subtext pertains to the fraught complexity of Black experience in America.

While list poems often have a rhyme scheme, Smith opts for an unrhymed form. This choice is partly because Smith’s customary style is free-verse, but in addition, a rhyming list usually creates a

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