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Harmony Holiday Explores Black Polymaths, Specters, & Allusions in Hollywood Forever

By Harriet Staff

Harmony Holiday

Harmony Holiday’s third poetry collection, Hollywood Forever, “is scored in the minor key of black history,” Laura Goode writes at Los Angeles Review of Books. Holiday collages midcentury imagery from Jet and Ebony alongside the era’s headlines (as well as some, contemporary) in order to add a new layer to the movie industry’s star city. Included in this portrait is a recollection of her father, the R&B singer Jimmy Holiday. Let’s start there:

Her father, the R&B singer/songwriter Jimmy Holiday, emerges less as motif than as métier for Holiday, both in Hollywood Forever and in her previous two books, Negro League Baseball (2011) and Go Find Your Father/A Famous Blues (2014). Jimmy died when Harmony was five, and the reader senses that her lifelong artistic and archival labor has been, in part, an attempt to memorialize, explain, explode, or contextualize him. Hollywood Forever reflects Holiday’s effort to interpret her father not only as an individual, but also as an avatar for his era, one node in a complex black anatomy of gifted, creative, famous, charismatic, and brutalized men. A dynamic tension emerges between the poet as a sophisticated, prodigious multimedia thinker and wounded child. The poem “Glowing with absence and merchandise” begins, “Father, Father,” and ends “looking for anyone who resembles you / to help me practice my scenes.”

Hollywood Forever witnesses Holiday’s black father’s abuse of her white mother, examining that violence from both personal and critical vantage points. The poet situates this private violence within the United States’s systemic violence against black men. In “What Jimmy Taught Me,” Holiday writes, “To be born yellow into a household where the black man rules with his fists / and the white wife body livid with a devotion hip enough to confuse / trouble with love or whatever it was,” superimposing the text upon The Atlanta Constitution’s headline “Dr. King Shot, Dies in Memphis; Curfew On, 4000 Guards Called.” Like a weary interviewee, she adds a trace of personal irony: “I wanted to say this more clearly In what ways did watching your / black father beat your white mother empower you as a brown baby?” Later, recalling a whopper of an intersectional conflict, she asks, “Did sex feel good in captivity? I watched / my black father choke my white mother when the greens weren’t tender, enough.”

Read on. And if you’re around Chicago on June 1st, stop by our Harriet headquarters to hear Harmony live!

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, March 20th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.