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Donte Collins


Donte Collins was born on May 4, 1996, in Chicago Heights, Illinois. A student at Augsburg College and author of Autopsy (Button Poetry, 2017), Collins received the 2016 Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank Most Promising Young Poet Award for their poem “what the dead know by heart.” About the poem, judge Toi Derricotte says:

I am amazed and thrilled by the formal sophistication and the emotional maturity of this young poet. While it is brave, and necessary, to name the names and the count the wounds of the boys who have been murdered, Donte Collins goes much deeper. They capture the trembling heart of the living boy as they walk through the world in their targeted body. “what the dead know by heart” takes us beneath the armament to the fraught existence of one who wonders “if the gun that will unmake me / is yet made;” one whose survival is conditional on another’s death, “today I did / not die . . . the bullet missed my head / and landed in another.” This is a voice to be encouraged. I look forward to reading Donte Collins in the future.

Collins sits on the youth advisory board of TruArtSpeaks, a nonprofit encouraging literacy, leadership, and social justice through the study and application of spoken word and hip-hop culture and is an editor at Button Poetry, the largest distributor of spoken word poetry in the world. Collins performs across the country and has had his work featured on AfroPunk, Elephant Journal, Feminist Culture, and more. They live in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

By This Poet


what the dead know by heart

lately, when asked how are you, i
respond with a name no longer living

Rekia, Jamar, Sandra

i am alive by luck at this point. i wonder
often: if the gun that will unmake me
is yet made, what white birth

will bury me, how many bullets, like a
flock of blue jays, will come carry my black
to its final bed, which photo will be used

to water down my blood. today i did
not die and there is no god or law to
thank. the bullet missed my head

and landed in another. today, i passed
a mirror and did not see a body, instead
a suggestion, a debate, a blank

post-it note there looking back. i
haven't enough room to both rage and
weep. i go to cry and each tear turns

to steam. I say I matter and a ghost
white hand appears over my mouth

Prayer Severing the Cycle

for Tomica

My love is as ancient as my blood.
And of course my blood is still mine
because a woman, sweetened black
with good song, pulled me from the river
like an axe pulled back from the bark.
I learned love, first, as scar.
And of course my love is only mine
because I found the nerve to say it is.
Ha, My love is mine.
But was first my mother’s. Not the how
but the why. But was first her mother’s.
Not the how but the why.
Not the how; Not the how; Not the how;
Not the how; Not the how; Not the how.
I am bored with this beat. I seek
a different dance toward death.
Lord, listen up. Lean in:
I crave a love that happens as sweetly
as it was named. If love must be swung,
let it soften. Not split.