Exclusive Cover Reveal of Danez Smith’s Poetry Collection “Bluff”
We spoke to the designer and the poet about the book's design process
Written after two years of artistic silence, during which the world came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Minneapolis became the epicenter of protest following the murder of George Floyd, Bluff is Danez Smith’s powerful reckoning with their role and responsibility as a poet and with their hometown of the Twin Cities. This is a book of awakening out of violence, guilt, shame, and critical pessimism to wonder and imagine how we can strive toward a new existence in a world that seems to be dissolving into desolate futures.
Smith brings a startling urgency to these poems, their questions demanding a new language, a deep self-scrutiny, and virtuosic textual shapes. A series of ars poetica gives way to “anti poetica” and “ars america” to implicate poetry’s collusions with unchecked capitalism. A photographic collage accrues across a sequence to make clear the consequences of America’s acceptance of mass shootings. A brilliant long poem—part map, part annotation, part visual argument—offers the history of Saint Paul’s vibrant Rondo neighborhood before and after officials decided to run an interstate directly through it.
Bluff is a kind of manifesto about artistic resilience, even when time and will can seem fleeting, when the places we most love—those given and made—are burning. In this soaring collection, Smith turns to honesty, hope, rage, and imagination to envision futures that seem possible.
Here is the cover, designed by Mary Austin Speaker, artwork by Devan Shimoyama.
We spoke to the designer and the poet about their thoughts on the cover:
Mary Austin Speaker: “The invitation to design one of Danez Smith’s books was a dream come true! I have admired their poems for such a long time and was thrilled to create a design for a work of literature that challenges its reader while foregrounding the vulnerability and power of its author at once. Danez offered some stunning artwork that I adored, but they graciously left the door open to what else I might find. When I lit upon the work of Devan Shimoyama I felt an immediate, thrilling kinship with Danez’s poetry: fire, you could say. Both artists depict a central figure consonant with the world around them, impacted by the world’s barbs as much as by its beauty. There is something a little byzantine to me about the figuring in Shimoyama’s work, but with the visual energy of Chris Ofili and the melancholy and color brilliance of Tessa Mars. The figure of the barbershop client felt spot on for Danez’s poems which are so deeply of a piece with their community and have everything to do with the delivery and receipt of care. I hope what readers encounter when they see this cover is a portrait of an artist full of love and sadness at once, alone-together, held and beheld.”
Danez Smith: “I was so elated to know Mary Austin Speaker was going to help find the cover for this book. As designer, curator, editor, I have always been so in love with the covers and titles Mary helps bring into the world so the thought of having a Mary Austin Speaker cover made me feel in good hands. Mary shared so many wonderful options, but Devan Shimoyama’s work was filled with such a mysterious, intense, and yet deeply familiar feeling that I found myself immediately pulled into his worlds and figures. I feel honored for these poems to come armored in this work, which for me speaks to the threads of love, care, community, and craftsmanship that are woven throughout the book. Those eyes, jewels crying ruby tears, are the kind of eyes I hope these poems see with. The color, too. This book is deeply blue, purple even, but that hopefully pink and that kind, beautiful hand taking care of that weeping figure? That’s what I hope readers come to by the end of these bluesy poems: a little window of hope, a helping hand.”