Just when you thought the world was trash, some good news comes along to make you reconsider everything. On Friday, the Poetry Society of America announced that Danez Smith had won its inaugural Four Quartets Prize for poetry. Don't Call Us Dead author Smith was one of three finalists — along with Geoffrey G. O'Brien (Experience in Groups) and Kathleen Pierce (Vault: a poem) — selected by the T. S. Eliot Foundation and the Poetry Society of America as potential winners.
Minnesota native Danez Smith is no stranger to literary awards. Don't Call Us Dead was a National Book Award finalist, and Smith's 2014 collection, insert [Boy] won both the Lambda Literary Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Additionally, their 2015 chapbook, black movie, won the Button Poetry Prize. Smith is a co-founder of the Dark Noise Collective, and they co-host the VS podcast with fellow poet Franny Choi (Death by Sex Machine).
According to a press release from Jack Jones Literary Arts, the inaugural Four Quartets Prize is given to "a unified and complete sequence of poems published in America in a print or online journal, chapbook, or book in 2016 and/or 2017." The prize is named for the T.S. Eliot sequence "Four Quartets," which first appeared as a single volume in the U.S. in 1943. The full guidelines are available to read on the Poetry Society of America website.
Smith will take home the first-ever Four Quartets Prize for their sequence, "summer, somewhere," which images what life-after-death is like for young black men killed by police. You can read an excerpt of "summer, somewhere" on the Poetry website. The Four Quartets Prize judges — Linda Gregerson, Ishion Hutchinson, and Jana Prikryl — say that Smith's poetry "imagines [a 'land who loves you back'] for the black boys who have died by violence in our time: the violence of vigilantism, of police brutality, of stigmatized poverty and illness, of despair. From a bitter landscape, this unblinking sequence manages to wrest a celebration of black lives, fusing metaphor and emotion in a transformative whole."
Jeremy Irons presented Smith with the Four Quartets Prize at a National Arts Club luncheon on Friday afternoon. The prize includes a $20,000 monetary component. Finalists Geoffrey G. O'Brien and Kathleen Pierce will each receive $1,000.