on political poets

Mini reviews of two poetry collections responding to the shifting state of American politics: Eileen Myles’s Evolution and Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin.

Over the summer I had the chance to check out e-ARCs of poetry collections by Eileen Myles and Terrance Hayes, two writers whose work I had sampled in the past but never read in full. The two collections share a common interest in responding to America’s deteriorating political situation, though Hayes does so through the sonnet and Myles through highly unconventional forms. Ahead of the elections next week I wanted to post mini reviews of each, which are included below.


Written in the wake of Trump’s takeover of the presidency, Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin is a collection of seventy sonnets that address racialized terror and violence, the resurgence of white supremacy in American politics, the cultural memory of Black activism and protest, police brutality and state-sanctioned violence, and the question of how to maintain hope in the face of overwhelming despair. Hayes’s images are clear-cut and captivating, his phrasing rhythmic and dynamic. Within the boundaries of each sonnet’s fourteen lines, his language takes many inventive and unexpected turns.


Sauntering about internal and urban landscapes, past and present, Eileen Myles comments upon politics, pop culture, desire, selfhood, and more in the poems of their latest collection, Evolution. Scattered throughout the 176-page collection are a few memorable prose poems that speed through subjects such as Trump’s election, the Shakers’ history, the loss of the poet’s mother, Comey’s public persona, and women’s ambition.  Far more common, if less interesting, are the poems consisting of a great number of ultra-brief lines that fragment images, meaning, and structure. The rapid pace at which these poems move compels readers to scroll through their contents, even as Myles’s ambivalent phrasing thwarts clear comprehension. Favorite poems included the untitled introduction, “Evolution,” “The City of New York,” and “Acceptance Speech.”

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