This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib.
Hanif Abdurraqib’s unflinching and unabashed new poetry collection is a deeply personal work of grief, sorrow, loss, self-reflection, remembrance, violence, love, and death. Gritty and graceful, piercing and profound, A Fortune for Your Disaster
connects the forgotten and the unforgettable — stirring your heart almost as easily as it breaks it. — Jeremy G.
Darkly funny but steeped in grief, Hanif Abdurraqib’s stunning poetry collection, A Fortune for Your Disaster
, reckons with the violence of the world and the violence that fills the hollows grief has carved inside the poems’ speaker. For the speaker, who is by turns grateful for emptiness and filled with desire, love, death, memory, and forgetting are both curses and choices: it is possible to take action toward forgetting, but the ghost of lost love haunts that act; as Abdurraqib’s poems make clear, heartbreak is what motivates forgetting and it’s what‘s waiting when the distraction ends. The choice is not to mourn or move on; it is to move on within the corpse embrace of loss.
Like his contemporary Danez Smith
, Abdurraqib’s poems are often preoccupied with the untimely deaths of black men and women; unlike Smith’s work, Abdurraqib’s references are more deeply rooted in the damage of internalizing persistent loss than in the cry for social justice, as in “I Would Ask You to Reconsider the Idea That Things Are as Bad as They’ve Ever Been”:
A boy sets insects on fire first
& then walks from a home’s charred ruins
smelling of ash. A boy forgets
how he can feel pain first
& then shovels broken glass
into his mouth
with his bare hands //
& the blood runs
from his lips & each drop
becomes a cardinal, state bird of every place //
where he misses someone.
Though the child is not explicitly the predecessor of the adult speaker, his early experiences with death inform the adult speaker’s resigned understanding of love and loss in poems like “Welcome to Heartbreak”:
I wish this type of betrayal on no one: being born out of that which will be your undoing. //
Imagine, instead: the place where you have a bed of your own & a table to sit across from someone who laughs thick & echoing as an open palm at your smallest joy & then //
the fingers close
The narrative structure of A Fortune for Your Disaster
is complex, welcoming repeat readings. Separated into three parts, The Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige, the collection periodically wanders from the speaker’s experiences to the imagined afterlife of Marvin Gaye, with additional detours to consider Michael Jordan and a compelling, nonconsecutive series of poems titled “How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This.” The poems’ candor and structural sophistication are enthralling; Abdurraqib exercises remarkable economy of language while maximizing the emotional impact of his work. Additionally, his references to pop and historical figures like Gaye and Nikola Tesla, among others, demand a deep engagement with the text. In year that has given us incredible collections like Morgan Parker’s challenging, reference-rich Magical Negro
and Joy Harjo’s mournfully optimistic An American Sunrise
, Abdurraqib’s heartfelt and painstaking A Fortune for Your Disaster
rises to the top, buoyed as much by its technical mastery as by its author’s hard-won grace.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month here