This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month Magical Negro by Morgan Parker.
Morgan Parker’s newest collection is going to shake you to your core. While her work continues to explore Black womanhood, this collection is an acute examination of the anger, pain, and rawness that comes from being a Black woman in America — not just now, but over time as it has revolved more than it has evolved. This time, Parker turns the lens outward on the societal gaze and influences on Black womanhood just as much as she reflects inwardly. With an anthropological eye (her educational background), Parker combs pop culture and history to deliver both elegy and wry tongue to the page. — Kate L.
Riveting, demanding, and rich in pop culture, politics, and historical references, Magical Negro
is the kind of blazing poetry collection that’s tempting to read in one sitting. Don’t do that. Or do; only, once you have, go back to the beginning, open your laptop, and get googling. Because Parker’s handle on pop culture, her deft enfolding of headlines into history, and her ability to parse the Black female experience so that the past, present, and future of Black womanhood link in one exasperating loop are remarkable, and remarkably difficult.
Perhaps especially for white readers, it’s important to read Magical Negro
carefully and with self-awareness. Parker is so gifted at drawing an emotional response from the reader that it can be necessary to take a break from the text, as much to remind oneself whose pain is being voiced as to absorb the complexity of Parker’s system of references and the different prose structures she uses to present her material. The poems are wickedly funny and frequently ironic, qualities that communicate the hurtful contradictions applied to Black womanhood — absorb pain but don’t communicate anger or vulnerability, be an object of lust but not love but don’t be a whore, don’t be white be Black but don’t be Black — and serve as a nod to the non-Black or non-female reader. I see you
, Parker seems to be saying, but my words are not your mirror.
is an awe-inspiring work. It’s a howl into a country that doesn’t value Black bodies. It’s a laugh-and-cry late night with a girlfriend who’s dated too many hipsters. It’s a meticulously framed window into the dangerous frustrations of Black womanhood, and the society that reinforces those dangers. It is a startlingly generous invitation into Parker’s vulnerabilities. And it’s a book of challenging, brilliant poems that demand a slow crawl through the text, so your mind becomes as saturated with understanding as your heart is with feeling.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month here