This month marks the publication of Frederick Seidel’s new Poems 1959-2009, feted variously in the Times and in this paper. Last Tuesday, in an inspired maneuver, the Russian Samovar invited Ta-Nehisi Coates and Benjamin Kunkel to read from the book. Coates, perversely, chose “Boys,” a poem about the various black servants who worked in his household when he was a child in St. Louis. It reads, in part:
In the video above, Coates cracks up when he finishes and realizes he’s not the only black guy in the room. He also has a satisfyingly complete riff on why he chose the poem on his blog:
But my point is that reading these pieces was like living in someone else’s skin for a moment. And yet, in some deep sense, finding myself there at the bone. It is human to revel in brutality–race is irrelevant to this fact. It is human to revel in beauty—race is irrelevant to this fact.
The other poem is “October,” which is a bit more romantic, and ends:
I am buying them for you.
I am buying them for your blond hair at dawn.
I am buying them for your beautiful breasts.
I am buying them for your beautiful heart.