Counting Descent

Counting Descent

by Clint Smith
Counting Descent

Counting Descent

by Clint Smith

Paperback(New Edition)

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Clint Smith's debut poetry collection, Counting Descent, is a coming of age story that seeks to complicate our conception of lineage and tradition.

Smith explores the cognitive dissonance that results from belonging to a community that unapologetically celebrates black humanity while living in a world that often renders blackness a caricature of fear. His poems move fluidly across personal and political histories, all the while reflecting on the social construction of our lived experiences. Smith brings the reader on a powerful journey forcing us to reflect on all that we learn growing up, and all that we seek to unlearn moving forward.


"So many of these poems just blow me away. Incredibly beautiful and powerful.”

- Michelle Alexander, Author of The New Jim Crow

"In Counting Descent, Clint Smith reflects “even the universe is telling us/ that we can never get too far// from the place that created us.” Smith weaves histories, from collective to personal, to make indelible archetypes of those places that have created us all. These poems shimmer with revelatory intensity, approaching us from all sides to immerse us in the America that America so often forgets. The broad sweep of Smith’s vision delivers a sudden awareness: In this poet's hands, we sense, like Rilke, there is no place that does not see you.”

- Gregory Pardlo, Author of Digest

Counting Descent is a tightly-woven collection of poems whose pages act like an invitation to New Orleans, to the spades' table, to mom’s kitchen, to the kiss on a woman’s wrist, to conversations with hydrants and cicadas. The invitation is intimate and generous and also a challenge; are you up to asking what is blackness? What is black joy? How is black life loved and lived? To whom do we―this human We― look to for answers? This invitation is not to a narrow street, or a shallow lake, but to a vast exploration of life. And death. In a voice that has the echoes of Baldwin, but that also declares itself a singular voice, Smith extends: “Maybe there's a place where everyone is both in love with and running from their own skin. Maybe that place is here.” And you’re invited.

- Elizabeth Acevedo, Author of Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths


Winner, 2017 Black Caucus of the American Library Association Literary Award

Finalist, 2017 NAACP Image Awards

2017 'One Book One New Orleans' Book Selection

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938912658
Publisher: Write Bloody Publishing
Publication date: 08/01/2016
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 84
Sales rank: 17,284
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.20(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and the poetry collection Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. His essays, poems, and scholarly writing have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, the Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere. Clint received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and a Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University.

Read an Excerpt

From "How to Fight":
Spelling bees were a battleground
where teachers trained me
to wield language as a
tool & fist & weapon & warning
to those who would rather
make an outline out of me.

Table of Contents

Something You Should Know 9

What the ocean said to the black boy 10

For the Boys at the Bottom of the Sea 11

The Boy and His Ball 12

Soles 13

Ode to the Loop-de-Loop 14

My Jump Shot 15

Full-Court Press 17

What the cicada said to the black boy 18

Ode to 9th & O NW 19

What the fire hydrant said to the black boy 20

Counting Descent 21

Keeping Score 23

A lineage 24

Counterfactual 25

Playground Elegy 26

Ode to the Only Black Kid in the Class 27

What the window said to the black boy 28

Saturday Morning Routine 29

When Maze & Frankie Beverly Come on in My House 30

Ode to the Drizzy Drake Hands 32

How to Fight 33

Zero Gravity 34

Ode to the End-of-Year 6th Grade Picnic 35

Passed Down 36

Dissection 37

For Charles 38

For the Boys Who Never Learned How to Swim 40

Beyond This Place 41

For the Taxi Cabs that Pass Me in Harvard Square 42

James Baldwin Speaks to the Protest Novel 43

Canon 44

On Observing My Home After the Storm 45

What is left 46

Lifeline 47

The Protest Novel Responds to James Baldwin 48

The Men in Orange 49

How Malcolm Learned to Read 50

From the Cell Block 51

How to Make an Empty Cardboard Box Disappear in 10 Steps 52

Meteor Shower 53

Chaos Theory 54

No More Elegies Today 56

An Evening at the Louvre 57

An Inquiry 59

Each Morning Is a Ritual Made Just for Us 60

Line/Breaks 61

When They Tell You the Brontosaurus Never Existed 62

Today I Bought a Book for You 63

Shout Out 64

It Is Early December in Cambridge 65

When Mom Braids My Sister's Hair 66

For the Hardest Days 67

Queries of Unrest 68

What the cathedral said to the black boy 69

There is a Lake Here 70

Notes 71

Acknowledgements 72

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