Purchased: Harvard Bookstore, 2016
Recommended By: Having seen Hanif perform for several years, and having purchased a few of his chapbooks, I was delighted to have a spined book of his in my collection.
Pages of poetry: 102
Recommended For: Anyone. But, particularly, your prejudiced family member or acquaintance who loves music and will be surprised to find themselves reading and enjoying something that includes Writing From The Perspective Of Otherness.
You've got words you like . and words you fear . and words you cradle . even when they cut you . You've got desire and rhythm . and all the shit you're supposed to covet . and it all fits in your leaky hands . Poetry . Essay . Memoir . Some things are all things . in cropped paragraphs . And i remember
Hanif . near but not . at the end of his set . leaving the stage to wander towards the bar . inviting the whole audience to . follow him to the darkest . stankiest pit of the dive . Me leaning against the sink . as I scrubbed what was never the last . set of glasses in the sink . and he read something . leaning over the audience . who'd left their chairs behind .
huddled around the fire exit . It doesn't matter which . words he spoke . at that particular time . There was only Hanifness . heavy . making you forget the smell of piss and rat . oozing from the ungendered restrooms . Hanifness . smiling without smiling . ease without simplicity . a story
you experienced as much as heard . And the text in this book does that . too . A friend and I were trying to launch a pop up restaurant concept . menus based on pop culture and literature . and . of course Hanif was the first person I asked to perform . And nobody came . Just me . Hanif . My business partner . The couple who provided the venue . Hanif's partner .
No one else . Milkshakes and I don't remember . what food . Hanif gave us a thirty minute set . like we were a stadium full . of fans . because we . the five of us . were . When you read this book . you are a stadium full of fans . and also . the only person he's performing to . Every time .
you pick up the book
1. On Hunger: Deconstruct a political, religious, or social group using two specific types of animal.
2. At My First Punk Show Ever, 1998: What made you stick out or blend in at the first music show you attended without your parents.
3. In Defense Of "Moist": Take a single unusual or unpopular word and seed it throughout a poem. Try and make the reader either dread or look forward to the word's saturation.
4. When We Were 13, Jeff's Father Left The Needle Down On A Journey Record Before Leaving The House One Morning And Never Coming Back: Tell us about a piece of music that was traumatizing to either you or someone you loved in your youth, and how you/they were either able to overcome that trauma and enjoy it, or how you believe they/you will never overcome it.
5. September, Just East Of The Johnson Park Courts: A ghost line prompt (A ghost line is where you begin a poem with someone else's line/lines, and then remove them from the text so that the work is all your own): another bloody/bar mitzvah another destitute boy/learning what it is to suffocate/someone with their own gold
6. The Summer A Tribe Called Quest Broke Up: One of the bands you loved when you were young eventually broke up. Maybe it was egos. Maybe tragedy. Maybe death. Maybe it was just a temporary break. Think of another event in your life that feeds into your memory of when you first learned that band wasn't going to be making music together anymore.
I love a manuscript with a solid structure, and that's So Here. There are times you are lulled into thinking that there is no order to these poems. They're just poems. They don't flow logically into another, you think. And then you get to the end of the first section and you realize how this echoes the first poem from the section but now you have a better understanding for what's underneath that poem. He's not repeating himself. This is how he grew from the experience of the first poem, and he's provided you with how that growth took place. And when you reach the end of the collection, oh, we are deeper in the echo, deeper in the learning.
It's a technique more poets should tangle with.
This is one of the easiest books on my shelves to justify. Excellent work, perfectly structured by a talented writer whose work and personality are easy to fall in love with.
There are some books that you simply Must read from beginning to end, and it feels like such an amazing accomplishment to experience the book in one sitting. This is not one of those books. You are going to have to put this book down several times. It will remind you of a story you have to tell, or remind you to call a friend you've been neglecting, or go listen to a track by a band you either Already Adore, or which you were unfamiliar with until you came across it in this book, and now Must Acquaint Yourself With.
This is a book you might takes days or weeks to read, and it's Okay. It's going to stick with you. Not hauntingly. You probably won't wake in the night, covered in sweat thinking My God How Did Anyone Survive That Trauma. But you will have a conversation with someone you are unlikely to ever have to exchange holiday gifts with, and you will think This Ignorant Motherfucker Needs To Read Some Hanif Poetry.
There are writers I've met through slam whose work I would consider Introduction To Poetry Books. Their work may not be challenging, but it's successful at speaking to people who might not otherwise enjoy poetry, and if they read that book and like it, you can slowly get them into better poetry. Hanif is one of three or four poets I can think of whose work is complex, and interesting, and well-constructed, but whose books I would still trust to give to someone who's never read poetry before, or else someone who "doesn't like poetry" (probably because of an archaic high school or college professor), and know that they would immediately ask me if I had anything else By Hanif, or Like Hanif's work.
Where you can buy this book: Button Poetry
What Should You Read After:
Eve Ewing's Electric Arches
Scott Woods's Urban Contemporary History Month
John Murillo's Up Jump The Boogie
Phillip B Williams's Thief In The Interior
Terrance Hayes's American Sonnets For My Past And Future Assassins