Parker is the author of three books of poetry, most recently 2017’s There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. Her forthcoming collection, Magical Negro, is due from Tin House in February.
How did your series of Magical Negro poems come to be?
I’m interested in representations, fantasies, or media inventions of black people and understanding what those representations do on a societal level to our view of actual black people. The Magical Negro poems especially are about celebrities. I don’t know why I’m so interested in celebrities. I think there’s an element with these figures we all feel like we know, but we don’t. They’re a part of our lexicon and of informing the ways that we see ourselves. Using that is a way for me to think about the bodies of people. The word magical is complicated: uplifting, but also dehumanizing. That’s something that I was also addressing.
In what way is the focus different from that in There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé?
There’s unease and doom in this collection, a reminder of death at any moment that haunts throughout. There are small moments that drop that feeling, but then it reappears in different ways. I think that in Beyoncé, the focus wasn’t death so much as the gaze of other people. But the idea or fear of becoming a product is 100% trailing from my last book. I was interested in drawing connections between that feeling and the feeling of being marked for death.
Many poems in Magical Negro explore how the self develops around external stimuli or in response to what’s going on in the world. How do you see that idea playing out in the book?
I think there’s overlapping between those two ideas and dissociation of self from body. The body’s out there being in front of people, or being a hashtag, or whatever it may be. So, where’s the self in that? I’m really analyzing the psychology of all my neuroses and fears as a case study of what affects us, and how we affect one another. Actions and habits and images have consequences. It’s a project for me of getting at descriptions of the world in a really precise way and trying to make the reader see instead of convincing them of anything. I never feel like I want to be preaching an argument per se, just pointing. That feels more impactful, more real.