Back on poetry, and gloriously so. There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is a 2017 collection from American poet Morgan Parker and it is an impressive collection of strong, heartfelt meanders around the intersections of the black and female experiences in the modern world. A heady focus on celebrity and the significant influence of technology on personal interaction permeates these engaging and evocative pieces. With references to music and cinema, social media and sex, this is a cracking set of millennial poetics, and though obviously (see above pic) I cannot directly relate to the experience of being either black or a woman, with Parker’s arresting and witty verse she is able to evoke great empathy for both personal and societal struggles.
Parker’s language and imagery would often make me stop and grin and mutter “wow” under my breath. I read the collection through twice, once on a long tube journey, once while walking my dog in the neighbourhood park. I nearly missed my stop on the tube, and I ended up walking round the park multiple times because I didn’t want to stop reading. There is a combination – for me – of the familiar (internet and sex and money and being youngish etc) as well as the unfamiliar (the identity issues), and I found that the high profile celebrity references that Parker repeatedly comes back to helped shift my whiteboy mind into the correct headspace. By referencing Beyoncé, her husband, the rest of Destiny’s Child, by referencing Barack Obama, Lady Gaga, Drake, Lou Reed, Kendrick Lemar, by referencing jazz classics and contemporary pop smash hits like, Morgan Parker locates her poems in the now, in the real world, and where my own identity holds me back from experiential knowledge of the topics she writes on (being eroticised for your skin colour, issues around white discussion of black hair etc), Parker is able to couch these topics within pop cultural spaces that I am able to understand.
I don’t know, maybe I’m sounding clueless here. These are poems about femininity and prejudice, about sexuality and power and powerlessness and gender and race. These aren’t things I know much about, self-evidentially. So I think what I’ll do for the rest of this short post is bang in some (not all) of my favourite passages from There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé.
From ‘Another Another Autumn in New York’:
When I drink anything
out of a martini glass
I feel untouched by
professional and sexual
Confuse the meanings
of castle and slum, exotic
The first quotation I have pulled from this poem because I like it, because it reminds me of myself and of many friends, people willing to allow a momentary flash or semblance of glamour distract them from things that they are otherwise finding upsetting/disappointing. The later lines, of course, speak deeply and succinctly to the problematic idea of overt and historic eroticisation and exoticisation of black women.
From ‘My Vinyl Weighs a Ton’:
All my friends are changing religions and getting laid.
I’ll be honest, I just liked this one because it’s funny.
From ‘These Are Dangerous Times, Man’:
I try to write
a text message
all my feelings
but the emoticon hands
are all white.
This is, again, powerful in its simplicity. I often read about the problems that surround normalising a particular type of experience, a particular type of existence, rather, and this set of lines emphasises a blunt, v millennial, way in which simple ingrained prejudices are lived out in the real, digital, world. Of course it is disappointing if your own fucking phone cannot represent you and the way you look, of course that feels loaded: it feels loaded because it is. Normalising whiteness is self-evidentially bad, and drawing attention to where this occurs is helpful. There is more variety in the skin colour of emojis now, but there wasn’t for a long time after they became popularised. This is, though, progress: people want representation, and that goes from democracy right through to wanting to be able to pictorialise themselves online.
The poem ‘The President’s Wife’ is a few pages long and is stunning, it is a series of questions (unburdened by both answers and question marks) that offers a taught, stream-of-consciousness look into the mind of a young black woman in contemporary America. Worrying about body image, about health, about politics, about safety and societal changes wrought by the internet. A pair of lines that stuck with me:
Are calories and sitcoms
Here to make me sad
‘Ain’t Misbehavin” is gently optimistic, but with a tragically limited sense of what hope can hope for, but is then followed by the loneliness-tinged ‘Untitled While Listening to Drake’, which is about music and youth and being single. A highlight – for me, because it felt like a very personal flashback:
Drank Vinho Verde and chopped cherry tomatoes like
You were an extra in a Mad Men vacation scene
‘Beyoncé in Third Person’ is another powerful piece, again about music as personal support and the internet and entertainment in general as essential. Some lines I enjoyed:
When one season of
The Real Housewives closes,
another one opens.
If you aren’t interested in self-
absorption, do not follow me
Everyone got high
levels of entitlement in our veins.
This is playful and sad, using lived and non-high-cultural reality as markers of existence. People are real people are real people are real, here.
‘Take A Walk on the Wild Side’ explores pretty accurately the kind of “growing up” that happens as the second digit after the 2 in an age gets bigger:
I drink fewer martinis and watch more
I’m older now than the hot girls
Celebrities get younger us as we age, but that doesn’t mean that we must sink unhappily into nothingness. We age, we change, we change, we age. If we all behaved like we were still teenagers we’d never get anything done and we’d probably end up v v v unhappy (lol is definitely the case, read historic posts for evidence). Ummmmm need to wrap this up.
There’s a poem called ’99 Problems’ that lists 99 problems and they’re all heartfelt and real and moving, while the title poem ‘Please Wait (Or, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé)’ is a glorious, moving exploration of things in the world that are worth exploring, because beauty is not just a visual thing, a sensory thing, beauty is beauty is beauty is love.
This is a messy blog post, I know. Too much movement atm, too much getting tasks except blog posts done lololol.
This book is great. Read it, buy it, love it.