A Fortune For Your Disaster
by Hanif Abdurraqib
Tin House Books, 2019; 120 pp
Reviewed by Danielle Susi
Hanif Abdurraqib’s third collection of poems, A Fortune for Your Disaster largely focuses on the regeneration of self after several different kinds of heartbreak. Abdurraqib is widely known for his music and cultural criticism, and this collection does not spare the reader his expert insight and references. These poems often view loss and forgiveness through a pop culture lens. For example, in “The Ghost of Marvin Gaye Plays the Dozens with the Pop Charts,” Abdurraqib uses the “your mama so . . . ” insult trope as a way to talk about blackness and struggle and violence. “It Is Maybe Time to Admit that Michael Jordan Definitely Pushed Off” uses an event from the 1998 NBA finals as an entry point to begin talking about the death of a mother.
What Abdurraqib has built here is a dazzling tapestry of poems. Several segments of poems entitled “How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This” and “It’s Not Like Nikola Tesla Knew All Of Those People Were Going To Die” appear, woven into the essential fabric of the book. Marvin Gaye’s name appears in no fewer than the titles of eight poems. Despite repetition of title or subject, each poem stands on its own, braiding memory, violence, and great sadness.
Acting as bookends to the collection, the first iteration of “The Prestige,” marks that “The poem begins with pain as a mirror” (6). This book begins with pain as a mirror, unable to see oneself in anything but agony. As a reader, one sees pain like the long and unending veins of this book, fighting for absolution, for an end to blame. The final form of “The Prestige” is more hopeful, well, sort of. Half of it is. The other half of the page serves as an erasure of the auspicious right side, indicating that “in the / end / the / only arms / offered / will open / to the hollow / and un known / darkness.” Perhaps not as fortunate as one hopes for the conclusion of a collection, but it is transparent and honest. It is an innovative and skillful portrayal of growth and representation of obscurity in the ebb and flow of grief and forgiveness.