Above Ground

Little, Brown. Mar. 2023. 128p. ISBN 9780316543033. $27. POETRY
Smith, whose How the Word Is Passed won the 2021 nonfiction National Book Critics Circle Award, returns to poetry in this, his second collection (after Counting Descent). His focus here is on Black fatherhood and the immense responsibility that parenting entails (“When I speak to my son I carry/ the echo of generations”) when the “moral arc of the universe/ does not bend in a direction that comforts us.” As he watches his young children grow—fragile blossoms of wonder and beauty amid the world’s chaos and violence—he wonders how he can protect them, writing: “I am trying to inhale all the smoke/ from this burning world while/ asking you to hold your breath.” In candid lyric poems often written in direct address to his son and daughter, Smith exquisitely captures the anxiety, love, uncertainty, and joy that accompany the challenge of nurturing nascent human lives, all the while casting a nervous eye on the unstable natural, social, and political environments they’ll inherit.
VERDICT While this collection will resonate most deeply with parents, its wisdom, humanity, and sheer eloquence speak to a time and condition all readers will recognize.
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