A remarkable poetry collection from Clint Smith, the #1 New York Times bestselling and National Book Critics Circle award-winning author of How the Word Is Passed.
Clint Smith’s vibrant and compelling new collection traverses the vast emotional terrain of fatherhood, and explores how becoming a parent has recalibrated his sense of the world. There are poems that interrogate the ways our lives are shaped by both personal lineages and historical institutions. There are poems that revel in the wonder of discovering the world anew through the eyes of your children, as they discover it for the first time. There are poems that meditate on what it means to raise a family in a world filled with constant social and political tumult. Above Ground wrestles with how we hold wonder and despair in the same hands, how we carry intimate moments of joy and a collective sense of mourning in the same body. Smith’s lyrical, narrative poems bring the reader on a journey not only through the early years of his children’s lives, but through the changing world in which they are growing up—through the changing world of which we are all a part.
Above Ground is a breathtaking collection that follows Smith's first award-winning book of poetry, Counting Descent.
About the Author
Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism, and selected by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2021. He is also the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review. and elsewhere. Clint received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and a Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University.
“I think there is an emergent theory, and maybe also a demand, when Clint Smith considers the brutalizing facts and language of war almost alongside a reverie about sprinkling sand on his baby’s feet; when he mourns the long and brutal and ongoing history of American slavery almost alongside making French toast with the kids or dancing until the whole family falls down. When he makes us witness the most incomprehensibly awful (and daily) brutalities not only beside but almost in tandem with the most incomprehensibly tender (and daily) actions of care. It’s a theory, and a demand, to which I think we must pay very close attention.”—Ross Gay, author of Inciting Joy
“Clint Smith is a brilliant poet, one who knows ‘we are not all left / standing after the war has ended. Some of us have become ghosts,’ who knows that ‘you come from the parachute that didn't open -- / and then did.’—and who finds words to sing and to mourn, and to see us for who we are. Here is a poet who offers wisdom that ‘our bodies have / always been inexpricable vessels of energy we can / not control,’ and despite that (or perhaps because of it), also offers grace. This is a beautiful, vivid book, where ‘grandfather is a fist / full of embers’ and a dance party becomes a life-giving ceremony, and Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million light years away, is a reason enough to spark an love note. Much to love in this poetry collection, lyric keeping us above the ground, rooted into our world, blessed to be alive, despite it all. Clint Smith is a marvelous poet.”—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa
“I’m so grateful that Clint Smith’s poems remind us of our interdependence on each other—on chrysanthemums, jellyfish, plankton, to note just a few of his magnificent poetic negotiations—all while turning his wide and generous eyes to fatherhood. This book is an illumination I sorely needed of both the outdoors and the quotidian—a joyful embrace and legacy of bright language and poignant questions.”—Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of World of Wonders
“Clint Smith’s poems make palpable the soap-bubble thinness of borders—the contingent boundaries of love and loss, past and present, sanctuary and violence, ‘us’ and ‘them.’ With inextinguishable generosity and abundant wisdom, he shows us the linkages that both bind and divide us—as family, as community, as nation, as world: ‘The river that gives us water to drink is the same one that might wash us away.’ I am so grateful for these luminous poems. —Monica Youn, author of Blackacre
“Clint’s Smith’s Above Ground gives us one of our most urgent writers at the height of his powers. With these poems, Smith’s crystalline lyric illuminates every word with love’s deep regard. It’s so nourishing, the scope and hope and breadth of Smith’s tenderness. I recommend this book for everyone who has ever been a parent or a child, in love or beloved. I recommend it to everyone who has ever felt like a stranger inside of history, inside of a nation, or inside their own heart.”—Kaveh Akbar, author of Pilgrim Bell
"A gorgeous book...Smith’s pivots and pacing mirror the routes of our lives, and his gentle, attentive poems are downright sacramental....I appreciate poets like Smith who turn the page between hope and loss, fear and exuberance."—Nick Ripatrazone, The Millions
"When poet and Atlantic staff writer Clint Smith became a dad, it changed how he saw the world. With his second book of poetry, the father of two attempts to put all of his complicated feelings surrounding parenthood into perspective. Whether it be the utter joy of watching his children make new discoveries or the heartbreak of knowing you can’t always protect your little ones from social injustice, the author of How the Word is Passed doesn’t sugarcoat the emotional rollercoaster that most parents are on. Above Ground is a beautiful meditation not only on Smith’s own journey as a dad, but also on the effect our ever-changing world has on the way we raise our children."—Time, "23 Most Anticipated Books of 2023"
"The Atlantic staff writer Clint Smith captivated thousands with his monumental bestseller How The Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, one of the best books of the past two years...In 2023, he’s back, this time with a poetry collection intimately parsing parenthood, legacy, and lineage."—Lauren Puckett-Pope, Elle ("Best and Most Anticipated Books of 2023")
"I long for a literature—especially a poetry—of joy; life is too short and bland without it. Smith’s new poetry collection teems with images of love and fatherhood. Great poetry comes in many modes and subjects, but there’s something unique about a book of verse that makes me want to hold my own children a little tighter, as I think of his description of delivering a bear hug: 'my arms are still / open like a universe / in need of a planet / to make it worth / something.' Juxtaposed with lines of grief and recognition—“men attempting / to unlearn the anger on their father’s / tongues, the heat in their hands”—Smith’s songs of joy are that much sweeter."—The Millions, "Most Anticipated"
"Coming off of his bestselling nonfiction book from 2021, Clint Smith is back with a gorgeous collection of poetry exploring fatherhood. The Harvard grad interrogates how parenthood shapes the lives of both the parents and the children, and he wrestles with the ways history, social and political events affect raising children. A constantly changing world can be hard to grasp as an individual, but one of our most prolific writers gives us language through his lyrical prose."—Christian Burno, WBUR/NPR Boston ("Winter Books Guide")