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American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  2,681 ratings  ·  371 reviews
In seventy poems bearing the same title, Terrance Hayes explores the meanings of American, of assassin, and of love in the sonnet form. Written during the first two hundred days of the Trump presidency, these poems are haunted by the country's past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares. Inventive, compassionate, hilarious, melancholy, and bewildered--the wo ...more
Paperback, 112 pages
Published June 19th 2018 by Penguin Books Ltd
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Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Each of the 70 sonnets in this collection share the same title, which is an interesting conceit. The title becomes a refrain from one poem to the next. It is worth noting that all these poems were written after Trump's election, and they speak well to the current cultural moment as we grapple with race and racism, state sanctioned violence, a puppet president and trying to live our lives despite the contretemps. There are killer lines throughout but I keep coming back to the first lines of one o ...more
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, poetry
Written in the wake of Trump's takeover of the presidency, 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' images are clear-cut and captivating, his phrasing rhythmic and dynamic. ...more
Laurie Anderson
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing

I need to read this amazing collection eight million times. I better yet, I WANT to read it eight million times.

It deserves eight million stars.
Joe Kraus
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
OK, you have to start with the title here.

Even if you aren’t a poetry person, you have to be struck by it. It sounds as if it’s making sense even though it can’t be true at any literal level; you can’t have more than one assassin, but the grammar coheres. Then, in that verbal ambiguity, new possibilities arise: “assassin” is metaphorical, and “my” refers not just to one person but to many occupying the same position.

The book turns out to be an interrogation of those possibilities while also pro
Brown Girl Reading
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Poetry lovers
When I heard about the release of this American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, I knew I had to read it. I don’t often read poetry but when I do it’s because I’m sure the collection is going to move me. ...more
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Assassin walks among us. He's on the front page of the newspaper with some regularity. These 14-liners offer a healthy mix of Hayes' talent with sound devices and imagery with the political, gloves off and taking no prisoners.

I read it at the same time as Jericho Brown's The Tradition and included a sample poem from each book on my website. To read one or both, if you're interested in one or both, you can follow this yellow brick road.
Review to come.
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
In any given year, there seems to be one poetry collection that everybody is abuzz about. This year, that "It" book is almost certainly Terrance Hayes's American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, a collection of 70 nontraditional fourteen-liners mainly focused on the subjects of race and racism in Trump-era America, livened by copious, jazzily irregular internal rhymes, wordplay, free association, a bounteous sense of humor, and a host of pop-culture references (Hayes seems as well-versed ...more
Sep 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetshere, atonement
But there never was a black male hysteria

It has been a great fortune in the bleak year of 2020 to discover Morgan Parker, Audre Lorde and now Terrance Hayes. This collection is much more a thinking/associative project than either thos eof Morgan Parker or Jericho Brown. This is a pause and consider more than a palpable moment or ten second news clip. I was blindsided and especially in the sonnet form, it was a mesmerizing experience.

I make you both gym & crow here.

That is not glibness but a gla
Jan 30, 2019 rated it liked it
I'm in two minds about this poetry output. There are some incredibly good poems in there, very powerful, creative, hard hitting. However, I find quite a few poems not meeting the same exacting standards and weaker in comparison. I like the flow, the ideas, the images (Dylanesque in some ways), but the syntax ends up looking samey. There seems to be an overuse of the same rhetorical tropes: obvious repetitions, lists, alliterations, connectors. I am sure this is all meant to be, but in my mind it ...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
From this year’s NBA longlist for poetry comes another great collection from Terrance Hayes. This collection is a series of sonnets looking at a culture that continues to allow racially-motivated killing of black Americans to occur. There is both an anger and a sadness evident in these poems, along with a defiance against accepting the status quo.
James Murphy
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is poetry about poetry and how to sing it.
It's about love as salvation.
It's about race, and it's about the anxious times we live in.
It's about how to dance out of the way of the assassins in our lives.
I think it's poetry that lives up to everything I'd heard about it.
It's impressive.
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Terrance Hayes is a very talented poet. This book has many outstanding poems with brilliant lines and insights. It is, like so many books of poetry I've read lately, a combination of commentary on racism in the United States and its personal impact on the poet as well as more purely personal poems. Hayes often makes use of established forms to contain his more experimental poems. Here he uses the very traditional form of the sonnet. His poems don't generally rhyme but some of them are like rap s ...more
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
“I mean to leave a record of my raptures”

70 14-line poems, all with the same title, all in the same style. You would think it would get tedious. Well think again.

The poems in this collection are searing and silly and strange. Poetry can be so immediate and visceral when it’s personal. But that can mean not everyone will get it. I didn’t get some of these, but that’s okay. I’d rather read sharp lines I don’t understand than watered-down ones that I do. These poems made me wonder; made me envision
Mattea Gernentz
Oct 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
"Probably, ghosts are allergic to us. Our uproarious / Breathing & ruckus. Our eruptions, our disregard / For dust. Small worlds unwhirl in the corners of homes / After death" (22).

Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars. I'm so glad this exists and can certainly appreciate the mastery involved in crafting these sonnets. They're almost encyclopedic in scope. I wasn't consistently drawn in, but the sonnets that do stand out are truly exceptional. I would have loved to read this in a class setting becau
Mar 13, 2019 added it
Shelves: 2019-reads, race, poetry
I try to read some new poetry every year, and in the past couple of years have been blown away by work by Saeed Jones and Clint Smith. This covers some similar ground in terms of its exploration of race, sexuality, and masculinity in the contemporary US. But for me at least it didn’t have the same excitement and clarity. I don’t know if it was the sonnet form or the content (which was somewhat repetitive), or what. In any case, clearly these poems have spoken to many other readers.
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Continuing my quest to explore modern poetry -- once again, I am not well versed enough to review poetry very well so keep that in mind.

There are a lot of really striking pieces with amazing lines but a few were riffs that sounded almost ad-libbed and went way over my head. Overall the strong pieces way outweighed the confusing (to me) ones. I very much enjoyed the audio version, narrated by the poet, and being swept up in the rhythm.
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ownvoices, poetry
4.5/5 Stars

Such an amazing concept and a clever, enthralling use of a poetic form that can often seem antiquated or irrelevant in a modern context. Each piece feels alive on the page, and the restrictions of the form somehow manage to make way for some incredibly provoking lines.
Rachel (Kalanadi)
I'm not sure why this collection didn't really work for me. I think if I were a well-read poetry appreciator I could better see how Hayes is working with the sonnet form. I liked a lot of the poems in general, there were a lot of striking lines. But I often found the phrasing difficult to understand or disliked some of the imagery. (Anything sexual in poetry generally leaves me cold, no matter the poet.) ...more
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
100% worth the hype. I'm glad to kick off my 2019 with this one. ...more
Emily Polson
Feb 22, 2019 added it
Shelves: poetry
Loved this.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it
Like the 14 song album that would be discernibly better if trimmed to 10 songs, this collection is flabby. The index of first lines reads like some of the weaker poems (I didn't know I had crossed over into the index). More of a 3.5 for me, great moments in here, but too many one draft poems, overly bardic turns ("deep"=Rilke/Neruda/Lorca reference), and lazy phonic riffs ("horror & hoorah" are similar sounding, so let's stack them). There's also a tendency to coast on some questionable semantic ...more
I pondered on whether to give AMERICAN SONNETS FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN by Terrance Hayes 4 stars or 5 stars. It is awesome, creative, pondering, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, political, deeply human, insightful (even inciteful, having been written during the first 200 days of the current US administration in DC). It was nominated for the 2018 National Book Award for poetry and shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize for the same year. I discovered it while looking for a book to meet Goodr ...more
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Raw. Inventive. Playful. Vulnerable.

If we wrote sonnets to all our assassins, we might reform them in time to save ourselves. The problem with most assassins is that they so seldom self-identify. But you know they have to operate under certain systems/structures. Indeed, they are no more free than any other member of society. Their role is to kill you. I doubt they like poetry.

I had suspected that Hayes was doing some innovative work with the form of the sonnet, but this article explores that ou
Alex Johnson
Jun 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-favs
After reading this, can I tell you what an American sonnet is? No. Can I tell you that Terrance Hayes is a master of them? Yes.

Throughout American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin, Hayes creates these little poem worlds. They often have a 1-2 gut punch at the end, driving me to loop back to the beginning and read it again. Sometimes I felt like the Assassin was whiteness, was the police, was me, was Hayes himself; I don't know. But the violence in these poems for me felt like they laid ba
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Like many poetry readers, I've been anticipating this collection for a while. Written during the first several months of the Trump administration, these sonnets fall in conversation with each other because of their shared title, rhythms, and repeated phrases ("But there was never a black male hysteria") and they also encompass the whole thought catalog of reactions following the 2016 election. There is a line in every poem here that will cut you, but for all the anguish and despair, there's also ...more
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
All the rage of several lifetimes packed into such a small, powerful volume is masterful to behold. Hayes's command of the language is beautiful and his love and use of homonyms and homophones is superb. His sonnets have the cadence of great hip hop and the depth of... also great hip hop.

This volume is timely and important. A must-read for anyone who hasn't been a big fan of the last couple years.
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature, poetry
Some of these poems moved me nearly to tears. The recurring themes of blackbirds, twilight are deeply moving. Anger, sadness, and at times, despondence punctuate each poem, which revolve around feelings of the state of the country post-2016 election. The assassins mentioned aren't simply white racists, but more the apathy and fear exhibited by all white people. This short body of work should be read by everyone. Taught in schools. Revisited again and again. 5/5 stars. ...more
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is ingenious - from the poems themselves to the organization of the book to the message(s) it conveys - and I am mad that I didn't get around to reading it sooner. One I might have to buy. ...more
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: newtome2019, 2018, poetry
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Terrance Hayes is the author of six poetry collections, including American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, How to Be Drawn, and Lighthead, which won the National Book Award. He is a MacArthur Fellow and teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

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