Poet and St. Paul native Danez Smith joins the Walker for virtual showcase

Smith, joined by the members of their poetry collective, Dark Noise, will perform an evening of poems available on the Walker’s website March 26.


Courtesy of Tabia Yapp

Courtesy photo of Danez Smith.

Frankie Carlson, Arts and Entertainment Reporter

Whether read from ink on a page or seen performed live with exuberance and urgency, the words of Danez Smith cut to the core.

A St. Paul native, Smith’s poems speak truth to power at the highest decibel level with captivating arrangement, masterful prose and vulnerable subject matter.

On Friday, March 26, the Walker Art Center will be hosting a virtual poetry performance from Smith alongside their fellow members of the Dark Noise Collective, a multiracial, multi-genre art collective of poets of which Smith is a founding member.

The performance is pay what you can and will be available starting March 26, at 7 p.m. until March 29. The showcase will be followed by a Q&A, with Smith and the poets from Dark Noise; however, this segment will be live and will not be uploaded for later viewing.

The event’s performances are pre-taped, with Smith having recorded their set in the Walker’s theater space.

“It was my first time I’ve been able to perform in a space that wasn’t my living room in the past year,” Smith said. ”I was very excited to be standing up in front of a real microphone doing poems again, I actually cried a little bit when we were recording just for that very reason. I’m sad that we’re not actually going to be able to be in the Walker, I miss seeing, hearing, smelling that audience.”

Doug Benidt,associate curator of performing arts at the Walker, gave praise to Smith for taking the time to help create as live of an experience as possible, even with the challenges of COVID-19.

“Danez was so gracious to come in and take this risk just to help this feel alive,” Benidt said. “People were so excited that an artist was back in the building at Walker.”

The showcase was initially set to be a live gathering in 2020 but was rescheduled and eventually pivoted to a digital platform due to COVID-19 restrictions. Philip Bither, senior performing arts curator for the Walker, hopes that this event is a way for the artists and viewers to come together, and share inspiration and joy during the most difficult of times.

“We felt very committed to figuring out a way that we could do this project regardless of the pandemic,” Bither said. “Now it feels like the project has even that much more importance and is that much more essential for us, for people getting through all this.”

The show will feature poems from the other five members of Dark Noise — Fatimah Asghar, Franny Choi, Nate Marshall, Aaron Samuels and Jamila Woods — followed by a 20-minute set from Smith. Smith is set to perform various excerpts from their latest poetry collection, “Homie,” which was released in 2020.

While Smith’s prose will be familiar, they are treading into somewhat new territory with their inclusion of music. Smith partnered with Twin Cities singer and producer Krysta Rayford, aka “K.Raydio,” to help include beats and music for several rap verses into the set.

Smith intends this inclusion of music to honor and pay tribute to a late friend who Smith credited as a brilliant musician and MC in their time.

Despite national acclaim and notoriety, Smith’s only concern remains the words on the page.

“I’m very appreciative to have an audience and have a platform like I do. I’m very grateful for it but I don’t think about it too much. It only hinders,” Smith said. “I don’t want to speak to the whole world, I don’t want to speak to 1000 people, I want to have a really good conversation with one person. … I’m just trying to write these poems.”