Review: Dark Testament: Blackout Poems by Crystal Simone Smith

Dark Testament by Crystal Simone Smith

Dark Testament: Blackout Poems
Crystal Simone Smith
Henry Holt & Co/MacMillan
Published January 3, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Dark Testament: Blackout Poems

In this extraordinary collection, the award-winning poet Crystal Simone Smith gives voice to the mournful dead, their lives unjustly lost to violence, and to the grieving chorus of protestors in today’s Black Lives Matter movement, in search of resilience and hope.

With poems found within the text of George Saunders’s LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, Crystal Simone Smith embarks on an uncompromising exploration of collective mourning and crafts a masterwork that resonates far beyond the page. These poems are visually stark, a gathering of gripping verses that unmasks a dialogue of tragic truths—the stories of lives taken unjustly and too soon.

Bold and deeply affecting, DARK TESTAMENT is a remarkable reckoning with our present moment, a call to action, and a plea for a more just future.

Along with the poems, DARK TESTAMENT includes a stirring introduction by the author that speaks to the content of the poetry, a Q&A with George Saunders, and a full-color photo-insert that commemorates victims of unlawful killings with photographs of memorials that have been created in their honor.

“I love this tremendously skillful, timely, and dazzling repurposing of passages of my novel, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO. Crystal Simone Smith has, with her amazing ear and heart, found, in that earlier grief, a beautiful echo for our time.” —George Saunders, NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of LINCOLN IN THE BARDO and TENTH OF DECEMBER.

Dark Testament: Blackout Poems on Goodreads

My Review

I’m blown away by this book. Already, I feel like I need to read it again and let the words sit with me for a bit.

I’ve never read blackout poems before. For anyone also unfamiliar, these are poems that are made by removing some words from a page of text, leaving the words of the poem behind. Removed words are marked out with black boxes.

I also wasn’t familiar with the book that Crystal Simone Smith used to create her poems, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO. I read the sample pages on Amazon and will probably buy the novel as well. It’s an unusual book and centers around grief, which made it a great book to create these poems from. I love the writing style.

So the poems. Each one is titled. Some titles are the names of Black victims of unlawful killings. Others refer to other individuals or groups. So many gripped me by the heart. The grief and shock come through so clearly.

I love the Q&A discussion between the poetry collection author and the author of LINCOLN IN THE BARDO that’s in the back of the book. I thought that conversation added a lot of context, and it was really cool to see one author support another’s work like that.

Another really cool thing about this collection is that the title was inspired by a poetry collection by Pauli Murray. Murray was an women’s rights and civil rights activist who did incredible work throughout her career. I’d never heard of her until this past year, and now it seems I see her name everywhere.

All in all, DARK TESTAMENT is an incredible tribute to the lives lost and to truth and justice. An incredible resource for school libraries and creative writing courses.

Dark Testament: Blackout Poems on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Primarily contains poems dedicated to Black victims of unlawful killing.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content
References to death and dying. References to prayer, attending church, and to God.

Violent Content
References to death and dying.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of DARK TESTAMENT in exchange for my honest review.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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