In his powerful debut collection, Willis-Abdurraqib uses pop culture and persona as entryways to explore themes such as family, friendship, race, love, and police brutality within the lives of his Midwestern black speakers. The poems prioritize inexhaustible energy and urgency of subject over any delicacies of craft as they leap quickly from image to image and theme to theme. Willis-Abdurraqib possesses a striking gift for merging pop culture with personal narrative: "the story about larry bird goes/ he walked into a locker room that night and asked/ which one of you is playing for second place? to a room full of black players/ and no one made a sound." The poems' breathlessness is understandable, though it can be to their detriment, preventing speaker and reader from sharing a common space. Some poems feel afraid of standing in one place for too long, while others, such as an erasure of Virginia Woolf's suicide letter to her husband, feel more like drafts than finished poems. Yet when Willis-Abdurraqib meditates on the dangers of being young and black in America, the power of his poetry is undeniable: "When I say that I am growing old/ I mean that I have lived long enough to fear death." (July) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC
The Crown Ain't Worth Much, Hanif Abdurraqib's first full-length collection, is a sharp and vulnerable portrayal of city life in the United States. A regular columnist for MTV.com, Abdurraqib brings his interest in pop culture to these poems, analyzing race, gender, family, and the love that finally holds us together even as it threatens to break us. Terrance Hayes writes that Abdurraqib "bridges the bravado and bling of praise with the blood and tears of elegy." The poems in this collection are challenging and accessible at once, as they seek to render real human voices in moments of tragedy and celebration.