“in the mirror, i am already vanishing. it’s the need to be loved that we’ll all miss most. my dog doesn’t always run when i call her name. i don’t always reply to my father’s texts.”
–from “What a Miracle that Our Parents Had Us When They Could Have Gotten a Puppy Instead”
Hanif Abdurraqib is best known for his ability to juxtapose pop culture with visceral human experiences. I have used one of his essays, “Chance the Rapper’s Golden Year,” in my classroom for four semesters as a starting point for conversations on the ways in which art acts as social activism.
Just a few weeks ago, in the last of a guest series for The Paris Review, Aburraqib described a workshop in which he uses a music video to illustrate the power of silence: “…two people on the telephone, near the end of a conversation, when the line between them falls into the depths of soundlessness. Even one person saying the words ‘I love you’ is percussive. All our affections, coming on the backs of drums.” Perhaps because I read the essay so recently, I went into Aburraqib’s second poetry collection, A Fortune for Your Disaster primed for poems on loss and perseverance.
The collection does contain a number of poems about the dissolution of marriage and isolation in the wake of a breakup; these poems are tender and honest and complex. The speaker turns a critical gaze on himself often, acknowledging his part in the distance that grew between himself and his lover. What I found most interesting, though, were the deliberate repetitions that appeared throughout the book.
Abdurraqib includes thirteen poems which carry the title, “How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This,” as well as eight poems which invoke the ghost of Marvin Gaye and three poems which use the title, “It’s Not Like Nikola Tesla Knew All Those People Were Going To Die.” He begins and ends the book with poems each titled, “The Prestige.” These repetitions invite the reader to consider the many layers of human experience present throughout the book, as well as the growth of the speaker as the collection progresses. We are encouraged to make comparisons across these poems, to partake in the conversation that Aburraqib has implied between them.
Ultimately, readers will come away from A Fortune for Your Disaster satisfied and renewed. The poems are rich with the subtle, introspective style for which Abdurraqib is known, and he touches on the themes that remain ever-present in his writing. They also show the increased patience and nuance of an author continually focused on improving his artifice. For me, this collection echoes The Crown Ain’t Worth Much without feeling redundant, offering enough of Aburraqib’s style to feel familiar while pushing toward a deeper, richer sound.