3-Minute Book Review: David Kirby on Terrance Hayes


Three-Minute Book Review: David Kirby on Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (Penguin, forthcoming June 2018)

(1) If this book were a dish, it’d be one from the Cajun cookbook, because “all my encounters,” says the poet, “Are existential jambalaya.” And to wash it down? A glass of punch, the colder the better. Each of these poems is titled “American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin,” and one of them reads in its entirety:


I pour a pinch of serious poison for you
James Earl Ray Dylann Roof I pour a punch of piss
for you George Zimmerman John Wilkes Booth
Robert Chambliss Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr
Bobby Frank Cherry Herman Frank Cash your name
Is a gate opening upon another gate I pour a punch
Of perils I pour a bunch of punches all over you
I pour unmerciful panic into your river I damn you
With the opposite of prayer Byron De La Beckwith
Roy Bryant  J.W. Milan Edgar Ray Killen Assassins
Love trumps power or blood to trump power
Beauty trumps power or blood to trump power
Justice trumps power or blood to trump power
The names alive are like the names in the graves


See what I mean? No need to reach for the Tabasco bottle. Mr. Hayes’ cooking is plenty hot already.


(2) If this book were a record, it’d be an old-school mashup: the Beastie Boys sung by Public Enemy, say.


A brother versed in ideological & material swagger
Seeks dime ass trill bitch starved enough to hang
Doo-ragged in smoke she can smell & therefore inhale
And therefore feel. Must ride shotgun pouring fountains
Of bass upon the landscape.




The umpteenth thump on the rump of a badunkadunk
Stumps us. The lunk, the chump, the hunk of plunder,
The umpteenth horny, honky stump speech pumps
A funky rumble over air.


(3) If this book were a good cause, it’d be Goodwill. Because the world stinks. Because


Even the most kindhearted white woman,
Dragging herself through traffic with her nails
On the wheel & her head in a chamber of black
Modern American music may begin, almost
Carelessly, to breathe n-words.




Sometimes the father almost sees looking
At the son, how handsome he’d be if half
His own face was made of the woman he loved.
He almost sees in his boy’s face, an openness
Like a wound before it scars, who he was
Long before his name was lost, the trail
To his future on earth long before he arrived.
To be dead & alive at the same time.
A son finds his father handsome because
The son can almost see how he might
Become superb as the scar above a wound.
And because the son can see who he was
Long before he had a name, the trace of
His future on earth long before he arrived.


Because we’re all in this together. We all like to eat. We all like to dance.

David Kirby’s collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2007. Kirby is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense.” Kirby’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His latest poetry collection is Get Up, Please. Follow him @Kirb23.

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