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.
Writer and educator Smith gives voice to the voiceless in his debut collection, a lyrical coming-of-age narrative that confronts insidious and absurd perceptions of young black men, and the absurdities of the racism from which they arise. He deftly utilizes personification, as in the devastating poem "What the Fire Hydrant Said To the Black Boy": "they say we both come with warnings/ for others not to stand too close," Smith writes, "but when they open us/ everyone stands around to watch:// spilling until there's nothing left inside." He also addresses the struggle over means of activism and protest, putting James Baldwin in conversation with the protest novel, and giving art the chance to respond. Some of the collection's imagery is overly familiar, as when he describes a young man as having "an indomitable sort of swag" or writes of "boys who were dawdling/ amalgamations of awkward and bravado." Still, the collection does not want for emotional resonance. Smith's poems are prescient and necessary, reminding readers of what's truly at stake when power treats a young person "like he wasn't somebody's child."