The Poetry of Music

Visiting writer Hanif Abdurraqib on music’s ability to emotionally move

The way Hanif Abdurraqib reads poetry makes you wonder why we don’t put more thought into how prose sounds. His writing is a field of collisions for these two genres, each constantly demonstrating how capable it is of becoming the other. It makes you wonder why we often don’t think about the bodies that language comes from, about how breathing and the pauses poetry creates are a percussion, about how sentences have a rhythm in the pattern and pacing of words and the stresses of syllables, and how when those rhythms end in massive emotion the air presses down and silence sinks over everything — everyone present participating in the punctuation.

Hanif Abdurraqib is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. He writes essays about what we take in when we listen to music, about what music asks of us and what it connects us to. He writes about the meaning music has, about the precise way it moves us, about the feeling it allows us access to, and about the conflict and devastation we have to navigate to arrive at that feeling, to hold onto it, and to know that it cannot be taken from us. He is a cultural critic who thinks criticism isn’t useful as a tool for evangelizing or tearing down. He asks us to understand it as a living, breathing, complicated, but loving relationship with something fallible. He is a writer who understands how rewarding it is to give that relationship rigorous attention –– to have 25 tabs open while researching an essay about the ways in which telephones appear in pop music that he’ll probably never publish or show anyone. Abdurraqib knows what it is like to seriously consider your curiosity until you comprehend it, to discern the political, historical, and personal contexts of your infatuations. He is a fan who recognizes that the most generous thing you can do as a fan of something is interrogate and articulate with greater and greater clarity the meaning your love for that thing holds in your life.

They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, Abdurraqib’s most recent essay collection, is available from Two Dollar Radio. His lyrical biography Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest, just longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction, is available from University of Texas Press. His brand new poetry collection, A Fortune For Your Disaster, is available from Tin House Books.

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