There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

The Present Is Not So Different

by Chrissy Martin

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House, 2017) is fabulous and unafraid, never holding back in its confession, depression, or accusations. Using Jesus’s wife, the president’s wife, and more frequently, Beyoncé, Morgan Parker explores black womanhood through a series of characters. This hyper-contemporary collection of poetry creates a chorus of voices that repeat throughout the book and echo through time. The first poem of the collection, “ALL THEY WANT IS MY MONEY MY PUSSY MY BLOOD” does not desire to gradually pull the reader in, instead grabbing them by the collar with both hands:

I am free with the following conditions.

Give it up gimme gimme.

Okay so I’m Black in America right and I walk into a bar.

I drink a lot of wine and kiss a Black man on his beard.

I do whatever I want because I could die any minute.

I don’t mean YOLO I mean they are hunting me.

 

Parker continues,

They ask me about slavery. They say Martin Luther King.

At school they learned that Black people happened.

The present is not so different.

In There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, Parker reminds the reader that oppression is not a thing that happened in the past but a daily experience. It is walking down the street. It is sending a text message: 

I try to write
a text message

to describe
all my feelings
but the emoticons hands
are all white.
White Whine.
White flowers in a river.
Some plantation
stuck in my mouth like a seed.

While there are over a dozen poems that include Beyonce—pieces such as “RoboBeyoncé,” “White Beyoncé,” “Beyoncé Celebrates Black History Month,” and “Beyoncé, Touring in Asia, Breaks Down in a White Tee"— it would be wrong to call this a collection of Beyoncé poems. Even poems such as “Beyoncé in Third Person” move seamlessly out of Beyoncé’s perspective and into that of a speaker. Channeling the experiences of Beyoncé, parker dissects the constant pressure to be flawless and the continual presence of eyes—whether in scrutiny or admiration.  These tensions are layered with that of the speakers. Beyoncé is always on display, so the speaker in “It’s Getting Hot in Here So Take off All Your Clothes,” where “All day men shout like lizards,” “Wake up, flawless. / Subjected, flawless.”

“The President’s Wife” feeling this same gaze as Parker asks, “Will I accidentally live forever / And be sentenced to smile at men / I wish were dead.” The blend of voices transforms the speakers of each poem into less of an “I” and more of a collective. This careful layering is reflected in “Hottentot Venus:”

No one worries about me
because I’m getting paid.

I am here to show you
who you are, to cradle
your large skulls
and remind you
you are perfect. Mother America,
unleash your sons.
Everything beautiful, you own.

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is a collection of balance-—humour and pain, glamour and debt, self-love and self-loathing. One poem is drinking champagne while another is “microwaving multiple Lean Cuisines / and watching Wife Swap.” One says, “I want my student loans to disappear. / I just want to understand my savings account” while another announces, “I sequin / my breasts like morning / shells.” This is a collection that desires to know the self, and in the titular poem, decides, “There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé: self-awareness, / Leftover mascara in clumps, . . . There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé: / Lavender, education, becoming other people, / The fucking sky.”

-2/10/17