cover image Heed the Hollow

Heed the Hollow

Malcom Tariq. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-64445-009-3

Winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, Tariq’s daring debut explores the intersection of black, queer, and Southern identity through the concept of “bottom,” both as a sexual role and a position in the social hierarchy. The conceit is often playful, as in the repeated phrase “Malcolm Tariq’s Black Bottom,” which is woven throughout the collection: “His Tastykake/ cake/ His Doublicious Kandy Kake/ cake cake/ the bounce/ of his Little Debbie/ cake.” More often, this concept makes erotic submission continuous with historical traumas, torquing familiar expressions: “Take this moan as historical rendering,/ my downward-facing sigh. Thy rod/ and thy staff they come for me.” Charting a journey from Savannah to Michigan, Tariq’s confessionalism can be direct, as in the title poem (“I take my own pills as I once learned/ to sign for my mother’s birth/ control. Preventative measures”), or suggestively and wittily oblique: “He’s never had/ a black man. I’ve never had myself.” Readers of Robin Coste Lewis will appreciate Tariq’s archival erasures, while Natasha Trethewey fans will appreciate a journey to South Carolina’s “Ellis Island of Slavery,” where “baby strollers and casual dog walks/ file before a single marquee meant to hold/ place for history.” Reckoning with historical atrocities and making use of a variety of formal gestures, Tariq triumphs in creating his distinctive brand of blues. (Nov.)