In-Depth Look: Hanif Abdurraqib – “At My First Punk Rock Show Ever, 1998”
Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.
“We come here to see blood, like all boys who sneak past their sleeping fathers in ripped jeans.”
There are a lot of things to comment on in this poem– the power of its opening and closing line, how efficiently it’s constructed, how an entire relationship is illuminated by just a few scenes and lines. I’m particularly struck by how Abdurraqib uses place; right away, the title is evocative, but the first few lines go even deeper into what this place is– and what this place means. It’s one thing to understand “punk show” on an intellectual level; it’s something else to feel it– both in terms of its sights/smells/sounds, and the emotional energy that crackles through the relationships present in the poem.
For aspiring poets (maybe those readying their chapbook submissions), this is a valuable lesson. We sometimes think of “setting” as a fiction term, but poems have settings too, and especially with spoken word, creating a concrete, specific setting can do an enormous amount of work in terms of bringing the audience into the poem. It gives the reader (or listener) some ground to stand on, so they can be more fully present and open to the other elements of the poem.
Find more of Hanif Abdurraqib’s work here, and be sure to check out his new book, “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us,” here!