Magical Negro is an archive of black everydayness, a catalog of contemporary folk heroes, an ethnography of ancestral grief, and an inventory of figureheads, idioms, and customs. These American poems are both elegy and jive, joke and declaration, songs of congregation and self-conception. They connect themes of loneliness, displacement, grief, ancestral trauma, and objectification, while exploring and troubling tropes and stereotypes of Black Americans. Focused primarily on depictions of black womanhood alongside personal narratives, the collection tackles interior and exterior politics--of both the body and society, of both the individual and the collective experience. In Magical Negro, Parker creates a space of witness, of airing grievances, of pointing out patterns. In these poems are living documents, pleas, latent traumas, inside jokes, and unspoken anxieties situated as firmly in the past as in the present--timeless black melancholies and triumphs.
"a phrase used by Whites to express their surprise and disapproval of social or political conditions which, to, the Negro, are devastatingly usual. Often accompanied by an unsolicited touch on the forearm or shoulder, this expression is a favorite among the most politically liberal but socially comfortable of Whites. Its origins and implications are necessarily vague and undefined."
She dates white men on occasion, and is funny and self-sarcastic about that. She trains her scathing eye on herself as much as the rest of us.
"The Impressionism wing strikes me as too
dainty for my mood, except for one oil painting
by Gustave Caillebotte, Calf ’s Head and Ox Tongue,
which is described in the wall text as
“visually unpleasant.” A bust of an African woman
bums me out. This year, I cried
at everyone’s kitchen table,
I spit on the street and was late on purpose and stepped
in glass and my dog died and I saw
minuses over and over. I’ll figure it out.
I let a man walk away and then
another one. It has taken me exactly this long
to realize I could have done something else.
I’m being repetitive now but do you ever
She also celebrates black excellence and the joy of being black, even in an often-hostile world. I was strongly affected by all she had to say about gender and race, and the intelligence she brings to bear. This is one of my favorite collections this year.
"When I’m rich I will still be Black.
You can’t take the girl out of the ghetto
until she earns it, or grows up into it.”
“When I walk into the world and know
I am a black girl, I understand
I am a costume. I know the rules."
"If our legend was allowed, it would sing
alligator's scales. It would be written in red clay.”
I read this poetry collection after hearing about it on the Reading Envy podcast, whose host reads a lot of poetry. I don’t read very much poetry but I found these poems very thought-provoking, with one of my favourites being Matt, a poem about the white boys and men the narrator has gone out with, all of whom seem to be called Matt. Not Dan. Rarely Ben. Never Matthew.
But I didn’t.
There were phrases and poems that sang to me, but as a whole, no.
Perhaps I need to pick it up again at a later time and reread it.