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  • Triangulating Truths
  • T. C. Marshall (bio)
All That Beauty
Fred Moten
Letter Machine Editions
136Pages; Print, $20.00

This book is a gem that shines dark in the light. Like much of the most useful poetry, it puts both celebration and questions in our minds and lives. The first bit of that comes with the title and “a prefatory note” that raises James Baldwin’s question: What will happen to all that beauty? from his incendiary book The Fire Next Time (1963). The opening note struck in that preface plays on Fred Moten’s summary of Baldwin’s effect: “He makes us let us look for ourselves, and through ourselves, till we’re beside ourselves.” That odd syntax and diction, “makes us let us look,” is typical of this book. It gets viscous enough at times to really slow our reading, and it seems like that is what’s wanted. It seems to be trying to make me see that when I get beside myself with sorting through something, I can see what I’ve been doing and question where it comes from and whither it goes. This book stirs up critical reflection by thickening the soup with the roux of thinking. It can make you rue the mix that got us here as you celebrate the taste that Monk (or even Jolin Tsai) played and called “Ugly Beauty.”

All That Beauty makes me think of its title as both a noun phrase naming the beauty that it presents — and as a possible opening to see all that beauty does. I mean: all that beauty shakes us with, or all that beauty makes possible, or all that beauty defines for us. Fred Moten isn’t just portraying beauties for us; this book engages them and places them in their engagement with “the world.” He finds them in the muddy waters of history and people’s efforts, greatly peoples of color. Off-color everyday language and hip neology light up the pages with that dark that is darker than blue.

      Our regular shit is muddyand irregular. Our shit is the shit, in this  regard.        Our  shit is irregardless, in this regard.That antecitational burstis the book of life; and all we got to      do is come out    to show them we ain’t  got to show you shit.

The urgency of the actions and recognitions here is to read the scene “and keep writing that shit underneath the floor, as our commune.” That “our” can be heard without any specific claims, though Blackness is always at hand. A poem called “symphony of combs” celebrating and including the work of Black Women “with Susana Baca, Satch Hoyt and Victoria Santa Cruz’n’em” goes like this in its first section:

They yelled at me, Black! Black Woman! They called me Black Woman and I called myself saying don’t call me out my name. I’m Black! I said. I’m a Black Woman and my sons and brothers shout it, dance it, claim it, caught up in the rhythm of reciting, their hip and hip tight movement turning, twisting how freedom and agony surveil each other everywhere in sowing that fold and cut they carry. They send a primal scene whose white mask’d repetition is cooked down low to rope and clothe the one-line force of soy. I am whatever you say I am, but not the way that you say I am, ‘cause that’s the way that I have to be, if you wanna come on after me, when said in concert comes uncountable as hair’s new groomed and grooved refusal to uncurl. Me gritaron Negra! Here they go right now.

The poems in the book are all dedicated to a somebody’n’em, and this locution carries the concept of community throughout the collection. That “Negra” section is like them all in taking on voices beyond Moten’s own. Each is a lot like lively appreciative critique, really, of somebody’s efforts, where somebody’n’em — their associates or enablers — have made a push to keep on pushin’.

Another section of the comb poem explicates...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 29-30
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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