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American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

4.31  ·  Rating details ·  1,258 ratings  ·  190 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
Kindle Edition, 96 pages
Published June 19th 2018 by Penguin Books
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 ·  1,258 ratings  ·  190 reviews

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Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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

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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
Review to come.
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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)
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.
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.
James Murphy
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, ownvoices
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.
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
100% worth the hype. I'm glad to kick off my 2019 with this one.
Emily Polson
Loved this.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, literature
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.
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
“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  ·  review of another edition
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
May 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
more than other poetry books, i took pictures of a few of my favorite poems to go back and read again. it's pretty cool/brave/ballsy to put together a bunch of sonnets with the same title, so i find that impressive. i do with they were each labeled 1/2/3. i know there's a bit of an index at the back, but being able to refer to them without using a page number or first line would be handy.

i enjoyed reading these poems aloud, which makes them even better. they also feel so relevant to this time i
Shawn Thrasher
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved how Terrance Hayes played around with language and the sound of words. Rhyme and alliteration and near rhyme abound; one poem that begins "Probably, ghosts are allergic to us" (all the sonnets have the same name) was so full of delightful and intriguing and pleasing alliteration that I made a note to myself that the poem was like a "black Beowulf." The book is full of light and dark, power and beauty, it is immense and small, sexy and serious. Full of (life) lines like this: "Probably al ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Are you not the color of this country's current threat
Advisory? And of pompoms at a school whose mascot
Is the clementine? Color of the quartered cantaloupe
Beside the tiers of easily bruised bananas cowering
In towers of yellow skin? And of Caligula's copper-toned
Jabber-jaw jammed with grapes shaped like the eyeballs
Of blind people? Light as a featherweight monarch,
Viceroy, goldfish. Pomp & pumpkin pompadour,
Are you not a flame of hollow Hellos & Hell Nos,
A wild, tattered spirit versus wha
Luke Gorham
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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