“Laurentiis looks back into the cave of history and sings the ghosts into shape, ghosts undone by America’s racial discord.” —Cathy Park Hong
Laurentiis fills history with his ‘crucial blood,’ his ‘stubbornness,’ his ‘American tongue’; and history, in return, fills him with crucial muses (from Auden to Hayden), stubborn ghosts (such as Emmett Till), and manifold expressions of culture (southern, sexual, spiritual).” —Terrance Hayes
“[Laurentiis] looks at America’s history of violence against the black body, at desire and sexuality, and at the racial tensions in art all through a painfully personal lens.” – Buzzfeed
Rickey Laurentiis is the author of Boy with Thorn (Pitt Poetry Series, 2015), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the Levis Reading Prize, and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery award. It was named one of the top ten debuts of 2015 by Poets & Writers Magazine and a top 16 best poetry books by Buzzfeed, among other distinctions. Individual poems have appeared widely, including Boston Review, Feminist Studies, The Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, New Republic, The New York Times, and Poetry; have been anthologized in Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers Speak of Palestine, Bettering American Poetry, and Prospect.3’s art catalogue Notes for Now. His poems have been translated into Arabic, Spanish and Ukrainian.
In a review of Boy with Thorn, Literary Hub writes, “Through these masterful works of elegy and ekphrasis and just plain freaking great poetry, Rickey gives his subjects portraits so clear they seem to breathe and hurt just the same as us. No conversation about the year in poetry is complete without talking about this book, this poet. In his work is a call to read better, make better, and demand better poetry, and it’s a joy to witness.”
When asked what he perceived as his “duty” as a poet, Laurentiis said, “I think my duty is pitched toward the past (the dead) and toward the future (the not-yet-born). Paradoxically, this means I must be explicitly, deeply, critically moored to the present. I think of a description of the poem you often mention, but I forget the attribution: about poems functioning as either “diagnostic” or “curative.” I find I lean toward the former, which means to face and acknowledge all of the past, brutal or otherwise. And I lean this way towards hoping, in a future, that my poems, however contaminated they may very well be, may approach the latter.”
Laurentiis was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, He received his MFA in Writing from Washington University in St Louis, where he was a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellow, and his Bachelors in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College, where he read literature and queer theory. Laurentiis is the inaugural fellow in Creative Writing at the Center for African-American Poetry and Poetics. He lives and teaches in New York.
Rickey Laurentiis is the author of Boy with Thorn, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the Levis Reading Prize, and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery award. It was named one of the top ten debuts of 2015 by Poets & Writers Magazine and a top 16 best poetry books by Buzzfeed. Individual poems have appeared widely, including Boston Review, Feminist Studies, The Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, New Republic, The New York Times, and Poetry; have been anthologized in Extraordinary Rendition: (American) Writers Speak of Palestine, Bettering American Poetry, and Prospect.3’s art catalogue Notes for Now. His poems have been translated into Arabic, Spanish and Ukrainian. Laurentiis is the inaugural fellow in Creative Writing at the Center for African-American Poetry and Poetics.
BOY WITH THORN (2015)
“Whether in praise songs, appraisals or meditations, the poems of Boy with Thorn embody an ardent grace.” —Terrance Hayes
In a landscape at once the brutal American South as it is the brutal mind, Boy with Thorn interrogates the genesis of all poetic creation—the imagination itself, questioning what role it plays in both our fascinations with and repulsion from a national history of racial and sexual violence. The personal and political crash into one language here, gothic as it is supple, meditating on visual art and myth, to desire, the practice of lynching and Hurricane Katrina. Always at its center, though, is the poet himself—confessing a double song of pleasure and inevitable pain.
Ferguson, Missouri, 2014
Forever here, Mister Dark, and tricking me,
Steaming from a manhole in Missouri
Or else you’re damp between the motions of the trees,
Revealing the breezy discourse of those trees, black
Sound. I can see now how everything
I’ve learned of you is wrong. How an air
Of dumb assumption lounged on my brow,
A liar, winking, claiming a shadow is as empty
As my childhood vision of the falling sun meant emptiness.
But every child knows what moves the wind at night,
Knows what leads some birds to develop their unrest
In the high green of some trees or, lower,
What leans against that tree’s bark: a man? Or is it
The just-barely-intelligible idea of one? Head back,
Maybe eyes closed, moaning, working to hysteria
The erection rising like a haunted chain away from him.
If I move closer, carrying a glass cup? If my mouth
Is that cup? Though I’ve known fear move as bravely
In this world, move like a physical man, it can shoot a boy–
So shoot me. Who said that? Was it really
The black of my tongue? But how could any breed
Of blackness ever wish to be penetrated? I could tell you
How a foot creaks even falling dead
In the night, could tell the red a mother cries
Once she feels that absence drop, like pity, inside her,
But I cannot say what a bullet says as it enters a child’s skin.
But come in. You can enter me, Mister Dark. Let
Tonight be the first night I deeper see the pregnant
Possibilities of your design. How your fingers move
To build such attitudes, turning a moaning of the wind
Into a man, making what is a tease of grass at the heel
Into terror, now pleasure, then back to grass again.
Aren’t you the mirror in which all lights balance?
Aren’t you the line on which all lines cross?
Anything lives in you, so that that dark over there
Can be the dark of Mike Brown, full of breath; that the dark
Right here can be the dark of my own bastard mind;
That this dark come closest to my lips
Is a shadow’s knowledge, full, not ever empty,
Charitable as is wicked, risky as is good; fascination;
Perversion; and I move to it, to you, a shadow-chaser,
Hearing the birds make restlessness in the trees,
Watching the man stroke velvet from his body,
Head still back, maybe eyes parted, singing now—
He’s at that point when I must surrender
My knees to gravity, and, mouth ready, get gone.
I’ll choose what ground I lie on.
YOU ARE NOT CHRIST
New Orleans, Louisiana
For the drowning, yes, there is always panic.
Or peace. Your body behaving finally by instinct
alone. Crossing out wonder. Crossing out
a need to know. You only feel you need to live.
That you deserve it. Even here. Even as your chest
fills with a strange new air, you will not ask
what this means. Like prey caught in the wolf’s teeth,
but you are not the lamb. You are what’s in the lamb
that keeps it kicking. Let it.
O fly away home, fly away.
— Robert Hayden
There are eyes, glasses even, but still he can’t see
what the world sees seeing him.
They know an image of him they themselves created.
He knows his own: fine-lined from foot to finger,
each limb adjusted, because it’s had to,
to achieve finally flight —
though what’s believed
in him is a flightlessness, a sinking-down,
as any swamp-mess of water I’m always thinking of
might draw down again the washed-up body
of a boy, as any mouth I’ve yearned for would take down,
wrestler-style, the boy’s tongue with its own …
What an eye can’t imagine
it can’t find: not in blood, swollen in the stiff knees
of a cypress, not definitely in some dreaming man’s dream —
Let’s have his nature speak.
What will the incredible night of him say here, to his thousand
moons, now that he can rise up to any tree, rope or none, but not fear it?
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