Magical negro : poems

by Morgan Parker

Paperback, 2019





Portland, Oregon : Tin House Books, 2019.


Parker presents an archive of black everydayness; a catalog of contemporary folk heroes. Her poems are both elegy and jive, joke and declaration. She connects themes of loneliness, displacement, grief, ancestral trauma, and objectification while exploring the troubling tropes and stereotypes of Black Americans. -- adapted from front flap "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."--Publisher's description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jnwelch
Magical Negro by Morgan Parker, the author of the widely-lauded There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce, is powerful and disturbing. A Magical Negro is is a wise one who shows up to help a white person, like the Legend of Bagger Vance. It's of course a white vision of blackness, intended to be
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positive but offensive to many in its white-centricity. One persistent theme in her collection is the subtle racism of whites who hold out a helping hand to show how tolerant they are, while still viewing and treating blacks as lesser, or simply being irritatingly facile. "Now more than ever" is:

"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
hate yourself?"

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.
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LibraryThing member isabelx
Some favourite lines from 3 of the poems in this collections:

"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
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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.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
I so wanted to love this poetry collection, since I’ve seen nothing but good reviews about it.

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.
LibraryThing member greeniezona
This is a collection that grew on me with time and with re-reading, so I'm glad it's one that I bought instead of checked out. The first time through I liked it. It was good. There were a handful of poems that I loved, but far more left me feeling boxed out. I mean, clearly they were not FOR me, as
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a white girl, so I thought, that's fine. I got out of this what I can.

But every time I pick it up I love it more. More poems zing, and I flip through, vaguely incredulous, trying to find the poems that left me cold last time and failing. This collection slips between the ordinary and everyday of race and racism in America and the "Magical Negroes:" Diana Ross. Michael Jackson. Jesus. The Strong Black Woman. "Where did Harriet Tubman sleep? Who did Harriet Tubman kiss?"

My early favorites were "Magical Negro #217: Diana Ross Finishing a Rib in Alabama, 1990s," "Nancy Meyers and My Dream of Whiteness," and "Magical Negro #80: Brooklyn." But now I love deep and wide.
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