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American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  944 ratings  ·  146 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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4.34  · 
Rating details
 ·  944 ratings  ·  146 reviews

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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: poetry, 2018
My review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, also can be found on my blog.

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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Liz Mc2
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
In his acknowledgements Hayes quotes Wanda Coleman explaining how she would tell students to write an American sonnet, advice which includes “overlaying your specific . . . rhythms (places and devices often have them)” and musical preferences. These poems made me think about jazz—strongly rhythmic, with repeated phrases and images, often moving improvisationally from one idea to the next, with a kind of playful free association of sound:

The black poet would love to say his century began
With Hug
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.
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 sema ...more
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.
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.
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I don't have anything beyond hyperbole. This ought to be the Book of 2018.
Kimberly Przybysz
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
“It’s not the bad people who are brave I fear, it’s the good people who are afraid.”
A great collection— what Hayes manages to do within the confines of the American sonnet form is at times breathtaking.
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I love what he does with the form--repetition, phrasing, everything. Love how the poems echo and talk to each other. Can't stop reading these.

Also, now I need to read Wanda Coleman.
Craig Werner
To this point, it's been an exceptional year for new poetry by either young or mid-career poets, and American Sonnets ranks with the very best new books (Cape Verdean Blues, Tommy Pico's Nature Poem). There's a long tradition of African American poets channeling their intensities into formally tight forms: Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Etheridge Knight in sonnet form, Langston Hughes and many others into forms derived from black music. Those are in dialog with the similar formal/emotional ...more
Luke Gorham
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, poetry
Q: The one good thing Donald Trump has done? A: Incited in some of our best living poets the stirring to craft works of righteous anger, beautiful rancor, and considered middle fingers at the oppressive structures of modern America. Few, if any, do so with such sweeping power, playfully varied tonal shifts, and incisively subversive classicism (scribing exclusively sonnets here is the ultimate troll to the old order) as American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin (Lake Michigan is the only ...more
Jan 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
This poet has won the highest honors and awards, but this is the first collection I have read. This group of sonnets (poems with 14 lines) touch on a variety of topics; each, however, shares the same title. The assassin takes many forms: bugs, gangs, politicians, etc. There is a lot of anger here along with some beautiful language and some unsavory street lingo.

Hayes reflects on some past horrors such as the death of Emmett Till and those of the little girls in Birmingham, AL and also looks to t
Bryan Parys
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
i was into this the whole time--the shared title convention was a perfect binder. i was hovering in the 4 stars category until i reached the Sonnet Index and then realized that each section of the book had 14 sonnets in them, and when the first lines of each are strung together THEY MAKE MORE SONNETS that somehow not only work, but still fit within the book's main themes. it's like Hayes has an engineering degree in sonnets. one thing that has plagued me: the title pages of the book contain what ...more
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
“To me, I say to my reflection sometimes.
You are beautiful because of your sadness, but
You would be more beautiful without your fear.”

Every poem in this collection is titled AMERICAN SONNET FOR MY PAST AND FUTURE ASSASSIN. The reinvigoration of the classic sonnet form to something more jazz inspired, looser and adaptable but with a nod to the original bounds of a classic 14 line sonnet- it’s brilliant. I consider this book an amazing accomplishment. It’s sad and beautiful and that’s my kind of b
Jee Koh
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Inventive, musical, and yet finally not deeply moving. I've been thinking about why not, for its subject matter is tragic, its intelligence sharp, and its attitude endearing. Perhaps it does not take enough risks. American sonnets should not keep themselves within the boundary of 14 lines. Claudia Rankine's CITIZEN, despite my reservations about its poetic power, at least challenges the coventions of a lyric. The matter in Hayes's book is the awful matter of news reports, but I am not led to thi ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I had the privilege to listen to Hayes via tonight, and it was fabulous. Finished this collection after I returned home.

“Anger/ Is a form of heartbreak, yes it is. If you can/ Give the world half of what Nina Simone gave it/ You will have lived an exceptional life. All you/ Have to say is, tomorrow you’ll try to be better.” ❤
Callum McAllister
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I loved this.

My only complaint is that because the book consists of 70 untitled sonnets, they blend together a little in my head.

But this also makes it a very enjoyable, readable and accessible collection for people who are re/discovering poetry - who maybe don’t know what they like or where to start.
Amie Whittemore
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Quite a wonderful collection. I admired the way Hayes threads different concepts through the poems (i.e., "black male hysteria" and the idea of 'bewilderment), creating a prismatic effect as he contemplates life in the United States as a black man.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Terrance at his best--
Kent Winward
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
The occasional poem had some high quality, like this line:

But why/ Give God your money? Why give good money to Death?
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Terrance Hayes is the author of four books of poetry, including Lighthead (Penguin, 2010), which won the National Book Award for Poetry; Wind in a Box (2006); Hip Logic (2002), which won the 2001 National Poetry Series and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award; and Muscular Music (1999), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award.

He is an Associate Professor of creative writing at Carn
“You will never assassinate my ghosts.” 1 likes
“If you think a hammer is the only way to hammer / A nail, you ain't thought of the nail correctly.” 0 likes
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