Deepening Discourse: Terrance Hayes- “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins”

Deepening Discourse
Cover of “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassins, Penguin/Random House 2018

Poetry, as it stands in modern society, is undervalued. It’s relevance has been eroded from all sides, diminished by the accessible and self indulgent nature of the medium while at once coming across as psychically and intellectually overwhelming due to the attention and consideration a good poem requires of the reader. Few other artistic mediums ask of the observer the fortitude poetry demands, but that very need for attention is what imbues poetry with its unique power and has made it the resonant vehicle for change, awareness and understanding it has always been.

Terrance Hayes’ sixth collection, “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin”, published in mid 2018 and written in the first 200 days of Donald Trump’s presidency is, by far, one of the most powerful, poignant and relevant works of contemporary poetry I have read in recent memory. In a collection of 70 sonnets, all bearing the same name as the collection which contains them, Hayes challenges the limitations of the requisite 14 lines and iambic pentameter that define the form. While paying homage to the lineage of the American Sonnet pioneered by Wanda Coleman in the early 90’s, Hayes harkens back to the form’s oldest iterations, manipulating rhyme and rhythm in a way that melds the classical and contemporary into something that resembles both while at the same time transcending them.

Wanda Coleman: 11/13/46-11/22/13

Transcendence permeates the pages of this collection. Each poem transcends the assumed identity of its shared name with the same tact and sincerity with which they transcend the assumed parameters and expectations of a sonnet. While these poems are didactic, dense and layered with allusion the emotive honesty of each line transcends the ridged, overly verbose barrier academia and the poetic vanguard have ensnared poetry behind and resists the simplicity and definitive tone of popular pulp poets. Most importantly, this collection transcends this moment while concretely capturing it.

The navigation of life, of black life, of Terrance Hayes’ own life in the time of Trump is approached in American Sonnets with a proclivity toward subversive beauty that illuminates the doubt, pain, fear, confusion, rage and uncertainty that have come to define today with a literary light so desperately needed in the age of meme literacy. These distinctly American sonnets are political love poems to one another, and while they can be read individually, the dialogue that is developed between them touches on something far greater than the sum of its individual parts, synthesizing from it’s components a vehicle not only for the advancement of poetics and the written word, but for a much deeper fundamental understanding of what it means to confront our would be assassins, whether in the street, our bedrooms, the White House or the mirror.

Terrance Hayes

Deepening Discourse: Frantz Fanon-“The Wretched of the Earth”

Deepening Discourse
Cover of the 1968 Grove Press Edition

Frantz Omar Fanon was born on the French occupied Caribbean island of Martinique in 1925. After a tour in World War II as a member of the Free French Forces exposed Fanon to the depths of European anti-black racism he began studies in psychopathology and medicine, developing the strong existential analysis on anti black racism and colonialism he is best known for today. While Fanon’s first book, his rejected doctoral thesis later published as “Black Skin, White Mask”, is an important and valuable read, “The Wretched of the Earth”, published near the end of his life and dictated while actively engaged in Algerian freedom operations, is the quintessential Fanon — a work steeped in both deep consideration and lived experience. Since its initial publication in 1961 it has served as inspiration for anti-colonial revolutionary movements around the world and has played a significant role in our collective and clinical understanding of the socio-psychological effects of colonization as well as the severe implications of it’s resistance. As an exploration of black national identity and the role of violence in anti-colonial liberation movements it’s voice is still masterfully relevant today. Nearly 60 years after its first French printing “The Wretched of the Earth” continues to shed much needed light on what it means to be faced with the brutal dehumanization of colonialism and what is required of humanity to atone for it. -BK

Frantz Fanon