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There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce

April 26, 2017

I love poetry, but haven’t written about as many poems as I used to since November. I think it’s because poetry involves emotion, and I haven’t wanted to stir any up; it seems like we already have too many people going around almost entirely ruled by their emotions.

But I’m still reading poems, and some of the best I’ve read lately are in Morgan Parker’s volume There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce.

From the very first poem, entitled “All They Want Is My Money My Pussy My Blood,” these poems are full of unforgettable lines:
“Okay so I’m Black in America right and I walk into a bar.
I drink a lot of wine and kiss a Black man on his beard.
I do whatever I want because I could die any minute.
I don’t mean YOLO I mean they are hunting me.

The way Parker can turn a phrase is beautifully concise:
“They ask me about slavery. They say Martin Luther King.
At school they learned that Black people happened.”

From the title of the volume, we understand that the poems are going to combine admiration of women who seem to have it all, like Beyonce, with respect for other black women who shouldn’t be expected to try to live up to her almost-impossible ideal.

A few of the titles of the individual poems can give you a taste of what the volume is like:
“The President Has Never Said the Word Black”
“Beyonce on the Line for Gaga”
“Beyonce is Sorry for What She Won’t Feel”
“13 Ways of Looking at a Black Girl”
“The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife”
“The President’s Wife”
“Ain’t Misbehavin’”
Beyonce Celebrates Black History Month”
“99 Problems”

Some of the poems are about readers and writers like you and me. At the end of “Another Another Autumn in New York”:
“…I breathe
dried honeysuckle
and hope. I live somewhere
And in the middle of “Welcome to the Jungle”:
“art is nice but the question is how are you/making money are you for sale”

Other poems in the volume are about lives that people like me can’t know much about, but Parker short-circuits any preconceptions we might have, as in the poem “Afro”:
“I’m hiding secrets & weapons in there: buttermilk
pancake cardboard, boxes of purple juice, a magic word
our Auntie Angela spoke into her fist & released into
hot black evening like gunpowder or a Kool, 40 yards of
cheap wax prints, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a Zulu
folktale warning against hunters drunk on Polo shirts &
A different kind of short-circuit begins a poem entitled “The Book of Negroes”:
“Summertime and the living is/extraordinarily difficult.”

The ending of “Black Woman with Chicken” reveals an image that’s set up to reveal something below the surface of a thousand conventional portrayals, but then how can it, considering the source of the view?
“Long black dress.
I’m what you want.
If you don’t
like what you
see, remember
I’m only
a figment, screen
of hunger & pining.
A spook
& you
feast your eyes”

Admiration of Beyonce and condemnation of the circumstances that require a black woman to be so extraordinary before people give her anything like her due is conveyed in the poem “White Beyonce”:
“She’s un-revolutionarily flawless
Feminist-approved she vacations daily

She woke up like a million bucks
slipped into lacy panties it’s always sunny

Her husband is upstanding of course
The tabs call him Mr.

She performs and the coverage is breezy:
What rosy cheeks what milky vacancy

Her daughter learns about beauty
Discovers nothing surprising”
Aren’t these lines fantastically economical in the amount of information and emotion they convey? Even someone like me–who spends a lot of time absent-mindedly bumbling through the kinds of daily minefields a black woman has to stay sharp to survive—can feel a little of what this kind of life must be like.

In the title poem, “Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce)” there is a declaration:
“There are more beautiful things than Beyonce: self-awareness,
Leftover mascara in clumps, recognizing a pattern
This is for all the grown women out there
Whose countries hate them and their brothers
Who carry knives in their purses down the street.”

And then there’s an invitation to readers, to help extend the speaker’s list of
“more beautiful things than Beyonce:
Lavender, education, becoming other people,
The fucking sky
It’s so overused because no one’s sure of it
How it floats with flagrant privilege
And feels it can ask any question
Every day its ego gets bigger and you let that happen”

The cumulative effect of reading these poems adds up to more than just the experience of unforgettable lines of amazing conciseness; the poems in this volume offer many readers the chance to feel things that we couldn’t otherwise feel, about circumstances we will never otherwise experience.

Thanks to Serena for reminding me that it’s National Poetry Month, which encouraged me to write about poetry again.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy permalink
    April 26, 2017 6:50 am

    “I don’t mean YOLO I mean they are hunting me” – this made every hair in my neck stand up in fear.

  2. April 26, 2017 7:46 am

    I also think poetry is hard to write about but you do it so well! I completely agree with what you say about the economy of her words – remarkable.

    • April 26, 2017 7:49 am

      Thanks! It’s easier to remark on remarkable poems.

  3. April 26, 2017 8:34 am

    Wow. Thank you.

    • April 26, 2017 8:37 am

      You’re welcome. And now I’m thinking of a line from the Gregory Corso poem “Marriage”: “You must feel! It’s beautiful to feel!”

  4. April 26, 2017 10:38 am

    Feeling things deeply now feels so risky, even more so than usual, right? I know I have to guard against the hardening of my heart, the self-preservation instinct to shut down. Thanks for sharing these pieces of poetry. This one was on my TBR but now I’m super excited to get a copy.

    • April 26, 2017 10:57 am

      Yes, so many things feel risky that I might be starting to get an idea of how other people have been feeling for years.
      I’ll be interested to see what you think of this, once you’ve gotten a chance to read it.

  5. April 26, 2017 2:33 pm

    This sounds very intriguing…so much packed into those lines.

    • April 26, 2017 4:20 pm

      Good way to put it–they seem concise, or spare, or brief, but there’s a lot packed in. She’s really good at that.

  6. April 27, 2017 11:54 am

    oh wow. I will definitely be looking for this one at my library!

    • April 27, 2017 11:57 am

      I think you’ll really…hmm. Not “like” it. Not “enjoy” it, exactly. I think you’ll appreciate the way this poet gets feelings and ideas across. As Nancy and Jenny observe (above) some of it is hair-raising.

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