PRAISE FOR Our Shut Eyes
Your work touches the very heart of who we are and what we've gone through as a resilient people.
These poems are powerful in their dynamism, in their rhythm and flow. But their impact is manifest most in the combination of their immediacy and historical depth. The soul-crushing frustration of watching the police murder Alton Sterling is juxtaposed against Douglass’s vision of slavery, or McKay’s Harlem Renaissance, or Baraka’s Black Arts Movement. There are meditations here on white supremacy and black liberation, on passing and passing the time, with a historian’s knowledge, a theoretician’s insight, and a poet’s soul.
At the heart of the book are a series of haunting poems about the Atlanta Child Murders. There is new documentary and fictional interest in the series of deaths of young black children in the late-1970s and early 1980s, but Smith’s work serves less as a companion to those than as a searing addendum to James Baldwin’s ponderous The Evidence of Things Not Seen, more immediate in their impact but soaked in the same combination of inquisition and art.
In Our Shut Eyes, John Warner Smith fearlessly explores monuments to American's racist history, sharing a 21st-century perspective about how little, and how much, the Black experience has changed. Delivering visceral testimony to Black dignity trampled, freedom stolen, blood spilled, lives lost, and bodies buried, John is brutally yet eloquently honest. He weaves poems about the children murdered in Atlanta forty years ago amidst those wandering through time from kidnapped, enslaved Africans to recent victims of white supremacists in uniform. Urging his readers in "Their Eyes" to "Keep them open to the history that bore them, to hate and oppression," he plays the "old familiar song, an American song of race, hate, and rage" for new audiences.
~F. I. Goldhaber