Rescue text, part panther, part lash––in the plain ol’ necessary key of healing balm. For our boys, and all Boy X’s, John Warner Smith snatches the usual performance of public poet from all the unimportant, harmful gazes that would have us spending mouth and mind proving we are Equal, and returns the Black Bard to his proper speak-seat within the community. This is how you upright Richard Wright. Redressed as courageous and urgent contemporary command, Soul Be A Witness carefully balances and re-injects the nutrient-like echoes of the Black Literary Tradition into our current state of soft, staged, formal phony literary legacy––as Heroic savior text and Neo Blueprint for New Black Fighting. For every stone history has cast at us, Soul Be A Witness casts three back in pure “Don’t Get It Twisted” fashion. To quote Zora Neale Hurston, very few poets “take their text and take their time” like John Warner Smith.

        —Thomas Sayers Ellis


John Warner Smith’s second collection of poems, Soul Be A Witness, is a surprisingly agile book. It moves through time and space with its storytelling, its playful tease, compelling situations and statements on life, and its vivid imagery and language. Smith has created a poetic ritual which maps a progression towards manhood and sense of self, with cultural and familial histories which are the cornerstones of African American existence.… a warrior rite of passage that is being revealed, but there is tenderness and beauty … Smith’s objective distance, and understatement, is more beautifully effective than a rant.… captures the nuances of a place John Warner Smith knows very well, very well indeed.

        —Gary Copeland Lilley


In this second book, John Warner Smith stirs together one part memoir, two parts travelogue, a cookbook for the soul and a voyage through a world of voices as complex and deeply American as those in Masters’ Spoon River. Smith, a master storyteller, baptizes us in a Louisiana that is “half-prime, half-painted, choked like a bleeding hog, blasting funk from a plywood shag-covered box.” Smith toggles from the present to the past, from the deeply personal to the journalistic with a deft touch.

—George Higgins