“[T]o take the notion of beauty…and dismantle it…not just in gender, but wherever it is being used to harm people, to exclude people, to shame people; as a justification for violence, colonization and genocide…I would rather you be magnificent than beautiful, any day of the week.” — Mia Mingus
A man in front of me sports a denim jacket across the back of which is embroidered the phrase You Wake Me Up, You Say It’s Time To Ride.
It’s June 14th, 2022, and Orville Peck has come to town for the fortieth show of his Bronco Tour. He penned that line for his 2019 hit Dead of Night, which he is performing today to a sold out Fox theatre. I’m here tonight most of all for Orville’s deft lyric writing, his straddling of yearnings general and particular, as in this jump on the track Winds Change,
Left my mind in the Salt Lake City
Met a lot of men who would call me pretty
Pack of reds, watch the days get colder
Don’t it make you cry, how we’re getting older?
And as any true fan, I adore Orville Peck’s mask.* I’ve spent the last week thinking about that mask. How it at once calls attention to and away from: How does this barrier encourage me to reconsider what beauty might be? More importantly, was beauty ever worth the consideration in the first place? Orville on stage, handing out roses to the audience, crooning his melodies and lamentations I’ve memorized by heart, magnificence takes him, me, everyone in this audience, so much farther than beauty ever could. And unlike beauty, magnificence cannot be destroyed or disappeared.
Here are four magnificent poems by equally magnificent poets I’ve been reading and rereading this pride.
*I’d be remiss not to mention that Orville Peck’s mask-wearing is part of a long tradition of musical artists donning masked personas onstage. Contemporaries include Leikeli47 and MF Doom, both who had been doing so years before Orville appeared on the scene, and without whose work and the work of like-minded artists we may not have Orville Peck as he appears to us today.
from here: Generations ready to be wrung out. The swelter.
The swagger. Extraordinary bass–it’s stank. & I am alive.
from "Hymn: Chainsweat"
by Willie Lee Kinard III in Adroit Journal
I’m a sucker for any written work that addresses its reader — “Feeling lovely, how much can a chorus jiggle, / refrain against itself before the slap starts to purple, hollow / into language rusting itself because, as you know, dear reader, / it was hot when you got here & it didn’t stop dripping?” I can’t say a whole lot about this poem that this poem doesn’t say for itself, far better. “Hymn: Chainsweat” is a poem that, from first read, drew me immediately in to its world of brilliance, sense, and sound.
The moon’s hot weightgain–
am a velvet bull (its dank, loamy tone)–the myth
wove transly, hummed hill to intense foam.
from "Three Divinations"
by Trevor Ketner in Afternoon Visitor
I love this project of Trevor Ketner’s so much, and feel selecting just one of these poems to write about would diminish the effect the pieces have as a series. As Ketner writes, these poems “were created with the assistance of an online anagramming tool and the source text of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets.” What amazes me most about them is how they at once seem to feel old and new all at once, drawing upon something evocative and nameless in history without relegating the ideas the language moves within and toward to the past.
O, I’ve been hard to love in America. I’ve been slow
to speak in America. I’ve been, undoubtedly, an American
and done practically nothing to stop it.
from "Unlove Poem"
by Franny Choi in American Poetry Review
In Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem (2020), a series of hyphenated poems braid together the image of light and something else — blood-light, grief-light, ink-light, suggesting at once an idea or thing which is revealed, and which in turn is a revealer itself. Several times in Unlove Poem Choi writes the phrase “Distance-Skinned,” making of distance a dermis, but also a violence — skinned by distances, the phrase quite literally suggests. Choi’s poems have always filled me with wonder for how possible language becomes within them. I love this poem a great deal, for that possibility, for the space it makes for grief, and its unflinching ending.
When Allie came knocking on the closet door, face candied from a stubborn cry, I knew it was time to go. A wide warm smallness between us cracked.
by V. Batyko in The Journal
This year has seen me soften towards the prose poetry, and incredible pieces like this poem of V. Batyko’s have played no small part in this. “Mallard” begins and ends with a striking image, its world of cause-and-effect and syntactical variance accompanying the reader from start to finish, making music all the while, a music I began to fully recognize and appreciate upon reading the piece aloud. To leave off with a line — “Midday sun struck, and the pool bent its light like cell division. The mallard dipped her head beneath the surface. The water shook in reply.”