It may rank as one of the most unusual collections of poetry I’ve ever read. At first, I thought I was headed down the rabbit hole with Alice. Then the poems began to make a Wonderland kind of sense. And then the collection became something almost profound.
I never would have thought I would have used the word “profound” in describing 46 poems written about rapper Kanye West (who may be equally famous as the husband of Kim Kardashian as he is for rap music).
But that’s what poet Sarah Blake did. She wrote 46 poems as a kind of unauthorized biography of the singer. She wrote 46 poems that are also about her non-relationship with the singer. I suspect that’s why she entitled the collection Mr. West instead of something less formal.
Apparently, Mr. West and his people were not pleased. Perhaps they didn’t understand what she did. Or perhaps they did.
The poems are not a send-up or a satire. This is serious poetry. Blake employs one of the icons of popular culture and does what poets, good poets, are able to do. She makes us see something familiar in a very different, perplexing and ultimately uncomfortable way. In others words, she makes us see ourselves.
The Week Kanye Joined Twitter
We find there are fewer dinosaurs
when we learn how the skulls age.
Shifting horns, bones that thin
and smooth, holes that form like
some desires do. Changes we
couldn’t anticipate, knowing mostly
our simple, fusing domes.
You begin tweeting.
I learn about your suits, videos,
jets, pillows, the new words you
picked up overseas. You take
a picture of your diamond
and gold teeth. You make a joke
about a crown so lovely I see
it on nymphs in daydreams.
Sometimes I see
my curly head of hair outlined in
the morning dark and think I’m
the lovechild of actresses and lions.
But today I see the functionality
of my face and not whether
I’m beautiful. I’m so very animal.
I remember and flare my nostrils.
Blake received a masters degree in creative writing from the University of Texas, and her Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry from Penn State University. Her poetry has been published in the Michigan Quarterly Review, FIELD, Sentence, and The Threepenny Review. She’s editor of Saturnalia Books, poetry editor for MiPOesias, and co-founder of Submittrs. And she has a special passion for arts administration.
Yes, the poems in Mr. West are about Kanye West. But they tell us more about ourselves, in this age of social media, instant celebrity, and being famous for being famous (Andy Warhol would have been fascinated with the Kardashians, I think). We identify with the gods and goddesses of popular culture to an almost frightening degree. Their utterances are quotable and tweetable, and we quote them and tweet them. If they like a particular kind of food, then so do we. We imitate their fashion styles and their hairdos, and we listen worshipfully to their music.
This is the culture Blake addresses in Mr. West. She uses herself as our representative and she follows everything he’s doing while she herself is actually (and really) expecting a baby. His life and media clips become vicariously enmeshed with hers. And ours.
Yes, the poems are about him, but they’re even more about us. The collection is brilliant.
Interview on Mr. West at The Cloudy House.
Interview (and a mashup of West’s rap lyrics and Blake’s poems) at Newsworks.
Why I wrote 46 poems about Kanye West – New York Post
Photo by Jean, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Glynn Young, author of the novels Dancing Priest and A Light Shining, and Poetry at Work.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
How to Read a Poem: Based on the Billy Collins Poem “Introduction to Poetry” uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology included.
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Megan Willome says
This sounds fascinating, Glynn. Thank you!
Thanks for reading, Megan.
Richard Maxson says
Glynn, thank you for your patience and perception reading and reviewing this. You have written a beautiful review that rightfully credits the poems and the poet. I have started to approach this collection again based on your insights.
Richard, thanks for the comment. When I first started reading it, I thought, what is this? And then it began to make sense.