the bullet was a girl is a poem centering around the themes of racism and anger. Danez Smith brings to question the casual attitude many have adopted towards the death of black individuals. Danez Smith adopts a cynical tone using: irony, caesura, and sarcasm among other poetic devices to highlight how the death of black individuals is taken very lightly, not only in the media but also by ordinary people.
The poem has seven couplets and concludes with a tercet. The poem begins with a metaphor; ‘The bullet is his whole life.’ There is symbolism here because a bullet can be seen as a symbol for the cause of death. The next line; ‘His mother named him and the bullet was on its way’, shows us that the mere act of his mother naming him, automatically entailed that his death would be surrounded by violence. In other words, since a name is directly linked to one’s race, being born as a black individual was enough to ensure that violence and death were in his near future. The fact that Smith uses very straightforward diction in this verse emphasizes that he is stressing the absurdness of this ideology. As we read on it becomes clear that there is a deeper message that Smith is attempting to portray. ‘In another life the bullet was a girl & his skin was a boy with a sad laugh’. In another life is the author’s use of sarcasm. It states that if it was any other individual, the cause of his death would not be linked to his ethnicity, but rather it would be linked to something else, such as a boy’s depression over girl problems. The fact that Smith chose ‘the bullet was a girl’ to be the title of this poem shows that he is emphasizing that in reality, the death of this black individual was due to ulterior reasons. The cause of death for this black male persona was quite obviously not some doomed fate tied to his race, but to any reasonable person, the cause of death was clearly because of his depression over love problems or low self-esteem. Low self-esteem caused by love problems is a very human problem, equal across every ethnicity and race, and that is exactly what Smith is attempting to clarify. You can read the poem in full here.
the bullet was a girl Analysis
they say he asked for it—
must I define they? they are not
monsters, or hooded or hands black
The above couplet is heavy with anger, stating that the people who leave the state of human courtesy and say the boy deserved to die are truly heartless by nature and more importantly they are not black individuals.
with cross smoke.
they teachers, they pay tithes
they like rap, they police—good folks
gather around a boy’s body’
The poetic device caesura is used above to emphasize that it may seem very sick to think of black individuals as somehow bound to violent lifestyles, but the sad reality is that the individuals who assert this are actually common folk. Smith makes it clear that someone who thinks such cruel thoughts is not a supposedly a violent black individual, but rather it is the police; our symbols of justice, and our teachers; who are leaders of society that have such twisted perceptions. Smith uses irony here as well where he states that the people making these unholy assumptions believe themselves to be religious by paying tithes and quite hypocritically enjoying rap, which is a predominantly African American music genre.
He concludes with a stanza consisting of three lines, a tercet, which drives home how inhumane the cynical thoughts of society are. How the people are literally blaming the boy for dying and instead of mourning his death, pitying his predicted fate. The statement; ‘They really should stop getting themselves killed’, is without emotion, almost as if one was describing the death of an animal instead of a human being. This contemptuous mood created by Smith emphasizes how heartless one must be to assume that the death of an individual is his own folly, when everyone knows death is a completely uncontrollable phenomenon.
Danez Smith has written a very deep poem about the casual way black lives are overlooked in the media and across mainstream ideology. He emphasizes that we need to realize that the reason for the death of black individuals is exactly the same as a death that occurs in any other race. His irony and contemptuous mood drives home the point that it is painfully shameful to have to explain such a basic fact in today’s modern day and time.
the bullet was a girl has an introductory couplet that begins with a metaphor. The usage of a metaphor to open up the poem immediately informs the reader to question the tone of the author. We see this is true as Smith goes on to say that as soon as his mother named the black male persona the bullet was on its way. Smith does not literally mean that since this black persona was born he was doomed to a life of violence, but rather, he is adopting a cynical or sarcastic tone. What Smith intended was for the reader to realize how absurd it is to think that one is born with some sort of an evil aura. The next two couplets use the device enjambment to allow a diversity of thought. The fact that Smith does not end the sentences with punctuation allows us to truly contemplate on what the lines mean not by themselves, but whilst being contrasted to each other. The following three couplets use the device Caesura, and this makes perfect sense because it is these verses that drive home the main point of the poem. Black individuals are considered violent and cruel, but they are not the ones labeling other individuals without reason. It is in fact the other members of society who are acting cruel and violent in their thoughts. The concluding couplet and tercet are heavy in imagery, allowing one to clearly visualize how heinous of a crime it is to blame an individual for his death while feeling no empathy whatsoever. The entire tone of the poem is very contemptuous and dripping with angry sarcasm. This is very relevant considering the blatantly conspicuous nature of what Smith is trying to highlight; we must consider all humans as equal, no matter their race or background.
About Danez Smith
Danez Smith is an American writer and poet with a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has authored many works, including Don’t Call Us Dead (2017), and Insert Boy (2014). Apart from appearing in varying magazines and published literature, he holds the title of winning the Lambda Literary Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He was awarded the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and was also a finalist in the 2011 Individual World Poetry Slam. Smith has also helped in founding the multicultural Dark Noise Collective. Some of his writing can be found in the following magazines: Ploughshares, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Kinfolks. He has had the honor of being the director for the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam. Regarding the poem, the bullet was a girl, Danez Smith stated that it came to him while he contemplated the way black deaths were being discussed so unemotionally on the media.