Hanif Abdurraqib is a fascinating tower in the modern literary sphere; he hasn’t remained in one medium twice in a row, moving from a full-length poetry collection, to an essay collection on music and sports writing, to a nonfiction book on A Tribe Called Quest. His most recent venture has Abdurraqib returning to poetry with his new full-length collection, “A Fortune For Your Disaster.”
Though I don’t think comparing “A Fortune For Your Disaster” to Abdurraqib’s previous poetry collection, “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much,” does the former its due justice, I think it’s important to differentiate the two in terms of how Abdurraqib has evolved as a poet. I adored “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much” when it first came out, and it’s by far one of my favorite books of poetry. “A Fortune For Your Disaster” demonstrates Abdurraqib at his most conceptual; there are sequences of poems spread throughout the collection, and the section breaks harken back to the practice of stage illusions: the set-up, the performance, and the prestige. In fact, I’d consider “A Fortune For Your Disaster” the more poetic of the two books. I say poetic and what I mean is that Abdurraqib focuses much more on form, lyricism, and the tightening of images and lines. Not to say his prior efforts are sloppy or rudimentary in any way—far from it—however, in terms of solidifying his voice amongst other contemporary poets, Abdurraqib has created his most “accessible” work with this new collection.
Sometimes, the act of sequencing poems (multiple poems of the same title throughout a collection) can either make each individual poem gain momentum via an interwoven narrative, or the repetition can make a poem lose its emotional impact. Abdurraqib succeeds partially here; his series of poems discussing the ghost of Marvin Gaye are some of the most captivating selections from “A Fortune For Your Disaster.” That said, the poem series, “How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This” is repeated thirteen times, and about halfway through the book, I wanted Abdurraqib to grant the poem(s) a stronger circuitry together, perhaps even just creating one long poem with sections.
I shouldn’t really complain. “A Fortune For Your Disaster” is, perhaps in the most harrowing way to put it, a record store full of elegies, and the musical influence Abdurraqib seasons his voice with creates such palpable tension that the pages turn indigo with the blues. When I read—no, hear—a Hanif Abdurraqib poem, the voices of Nina Simone, of Kendrick Lamar, of De La Soul, permeate through my walls and out into the city. There is so much music flooding from “A Fortune For Your Disaster” that by its culminating pages, I can barely hear just Abdurraqib. He has so many voices, so many voices, all collapsed into one.