Browsing Morgan Parker ’10’s poems, one might assume she has been scribbling free verse since childhood. Her style is easy, imagistic and fluid; Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith calls Parker’s writing “acrobatic.” The turbo-charged speed of Parker’s literary rise only increases the sense of a discipline derived, like athleticism, from a hardcore, lifelong practice. Parker has already published two books and was selected for the all-star lineup in The Best American Poetry 2016, as well as for a prestigious 2017 NEA Literature Fellowship. Her celebrity fans include Lena Dunham and counterculture poet Eileen Myles.
Rachel Eliza Griffiths
But poetry is a genre Parker fell into as a College student. She grew up in Highland, Calif., a conservative suburb of Los Angeles, the child of a firefighter and a county employee (“really, really regular people,” she told The New Yorker in April). Parker wrote stories and essays and daydreamed about moving to New York City and becoming a writer — but not, ugh, a poet, she recalled for CCT: “Poetry is a weird genre, and I didn’t feel like it was for me.” That all changed in a creative writing seminar taught by visiting poet Josh Bell. The class read contemporary poems, not the “horrible” works from her high school syllabus. Parker wrote a poem each week, responding to different prompts. She made jokes and talked about herself — “things I wouldn’t say out loud.” Something opened up for her.
She still talks about the oddness of poetry, but now it’s with affection. It’s clear how much the genre has given her — how it allows her to reach out and self-reveal in a way that’s both extroverted and inclusive. When Parker’s poems are described in interviews or reviews, the word “invitation” recurs. “I’m trying to invite the reader to get to the thing with me … creating a space where they’re feeling what I’m feeling,” she says. She praises poetry’s flexibility and its ability to pinpoint the inexpressible. “A really successful poem — you almost can’t put your finger on what’s so good,” she adds. “You’re not saying the thing, you’re swirling around it.”
The works in her latest book, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House Books, $14.95), combine vivid life observations and pop references from a young New York City woman’s point of view, spiraling them into expressive, emotionally rich designs. Twelve poems about the many-faceted Beyoncé — a celebrity who represents, for Parker, “every black woman” — blend with more personal riffs on love, race, therapy, martinis and music. Parker sees her new book as, ultimately, a “love letter to black women.” Poem after poem depicts their strength, their potential, their fatigue and anger — “everything they have been and are and will be and could be.” As she told New York magazine last spring: “I just want this to be a reminder that, look, you have permission to be as dope, as fly, as beautiful, as naked, as sad, as fucked up as you want to be.”
— Rose Kernochan BC’82
To the extent that one begins to wonder if he is broken. It is not so difficult to open teeth and brass taxes. The president is all like five on the bleep hand side. The president be like we lost a young boy today. The pursuit of happiness is guaranteed for all fellow Americans. He is nobody special like us. He says brothers and sisters. What kind of bodies are moveable and feasts. What color are visions. When he opens his mouth a chameleon is inside, starving.
When I drink anything out of a martini glass I feel untouched by professional and sexual rejection. I am a dreamer with empty hands and I like the chill. I will not be attending the party tonight, because I am microwaving multiple Lean Cuisines and watching Wife Swap, which is designed to get back at fathers, as westernized media is often wont to do. I don’t know when I got so punk rock but when I catch myself in the mirror I feel stronger. So when at five in the afternoon something on my TV says time is not on your side I don’t give any shits at all. Instead I smoke a joint like I’m a teenager and eat a whole box of cupcakes. Stepping on leaves I get first-night thrill. Confuse the meanings of castle and slum, exotic and erotic. I bless the dark, tuck myself into a canyon of steel. I breathe dried honeysuckle and hope. I live somewhere imaginary.
The most beautiful hearse I have ever seen is parked in front of my stoop Perched hands folded for six to eight weeks twinkling like a siren a new idea of love Trees are planted but don’t exist yet They are leaning non-existent into us A trough of hearts meets me in the anxious sun I could rot here Something like the holy spirit pours you over bruised ice There isn’t anything more to say than holy Beautiful men never looking upon me I take music self-stirred and sleep alone curve into the morning like an almond My shoulders lush as romantics You wash up on a barstool smooth heartache black sand
at risk pretty Queen Latifah Nikki Giovanni Ma Tina Turner sex Dyke ugly bitch sex Mamma Nene Leakes Sally Hemings t.h.o.t. Erykah Badu easy bipolar Beyoncé sex kitchen rape wifey Nina Simone Nicki Minaj sex sex Whitney Houston Toni Morrison I am hungry Grace Jones for myself diva slut thong darkie Michelle Obama high yellow nappy flawless Audre Lorde Lena Horne lips Sandra Bland sex strong sex sister Wanda Sykes sassy witch low-income sex booty well-spoken Issa Rae less hotep beautiful Hottentot Venus sex chickenhead thick Alice Walker queen dead sex just a friend Shonda Rhimes trouble sick sex mean hair bell hooks single dying tragic sex help carefree chocolate special exotic sex ratchet Felicia loud lost
Please wait to record Love Jones at 8:48 Saturday on BET Until your life is no longer defined by Beyoncé Ants crawling over fallen leaves and little pieces of dog shit Empty chicken boxes glowing with the remembrance of grease There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé: 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 Maybe they will not get out alive Maybe they will turn into air or news or brown flower petals There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé: 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 Everyday its ego gets bigger and you let that happen But one day your shit will be unbelievably together One day you’ll care a whole lot you’ll always take vitamins And exercise without bragging and words will fit perfectly Into your mouth like an olive soaked in gin The glory of an olive soaked in gin & its smooth smallness A gloss will snowfall onto your cheeks, the top of your lip The sidewalks will be the same, evidenced Combing your records you’ll see the past and think OK Once I was a different kind of person
Copyright © 2017 by Morgan Parker.
Reprinted by permission of ICM Partners.
Published quarterly by the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends of Columbia College.