Morgan Parker, poet author of the explosive collection There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, leaves the title open to interpretation, but with one exception: She isn’t suggesting that Beyoncé isn’t beautiful, because Beyoncé is beautiful. Like the rest of us, Parker is clearly a fan. She is however suggesting that her muse -- the “flawless” Queen Bey -- might not actually be the be-all, end-all for American popular culture or Black womanhood.
In unabashed contemplations and visceral imagings focused mostly on Black culture icons (Bey, Drake, the Obamas), society at large, and Parker’s own literary persona (how autobiographical any of it is is anyone’s guess), Parker deftly balances tones of satire and sincerity and of criticism and sympathy. Titles like “White Beyoncé” or “Slouching Towards Beyoncé” extremify this duality, using overarching humor to soften the blow of lines like “Her body / is like mine it is filled / with holes. It starts black / and stays Black.” It’s an ambiguous analogy that upon rereading becomes one of Parker’s starker equations between somatic wellness and the degradation of sexist, racist oppression. An oppression that incessantly dogs Black women everywhere, including Congresswomen and even Beyoncé herself.
Elsewhere, the exquisite “Black Woman with Chicken,” while responding to its eponymous photograph from Carrie Mae Weems’s Ain’t Jokin’ series, dares us to confront the who, what, and why of familiar stereotypes. It also distills Parker’s main textual motifs: an ongoing conversation with contemporary Black art and the simultaneous disconnect between our real selves, our ideal presentations, and the biological mythmaking that colors the cracks.
Accessibly arty and funnier than you’d expect, There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé is vital and alive. Credit to Parker. With concise, cosmic, and sometimes discomfiting poetry, she shows us that what is ugly, scary, and embarrassing is often what is also truly and universally beautiful.