Mr. West covers the main events in superstar Kanye West's life while also following the poet on her year spent researching, writing, and pregnant. The book explores how we are drawn to celebritiesto their portrayal in the mediaand how we sometimes find great private meaning in another person's public story, even across lines of gender and race. Blake's aesthetics take her work from prose poems to lineated free verse to tightly wound lyrics to improbably successful sestinas. The poems fully engage pop culture as a strange, complicated presence that is revealing of America itself. This is a daring debut collection and a groundbreaking work. An online reader's companion will be available at http://sarahblake.site.wesleyan.edu.
About the Author
SARAH BLAKE is the founder of the online writing tool Submittrs and a recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship. Her poetry has appeared in Boston Review, Drunken Boat, FIELD, and The Threepenny Review. She lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Read an Excerpt
HA HA HUM
In the chorus of one of my favorite songs are three throat-clearing sounds —
sometimes depicted as Ha Ha Hum
on lyrics websites such as azlyrics.com, lyricstime.com, andanysonglyrics.com.
A sound we make when we talk with the mouths of Jews.
Channukah, l'chaim, chutzpah.
Russians have a letter for it. In block, an x, in Cyrillic, two c's back to back.
In the words, good, chorrosho, and bad, plocho.
They have other letters I love, for sh,tss,sht,szh,yoo.
The sound Kanye makes — it's not unlike the French r.
How my name falls back into the mouth like it's collapsing.
In Russian, the r would roll, as when my great-grandmother said her name,
as when my great-grandfather called to her.
My name means princess in Hebrew.
Kanye's means the only one in Swahili.
A language once written in Arabic script, now written with letters like ours.
Switched in the 1800's. Trying for sounds like nz and nd, to begin words.
The mouths we speak with are hidden by our other mouths.
The couple, who have dated on and off since 2002, got engaged over a lobster and pasta dinner during a vacation on the island of Capri in August 2006.
How does People magazine know this?
I hate to say things look like butterflies, but what should I say — the island looks like motion? Like a liver?
It's an island.
You proposed to her and it looks like a butterfly.
The Italian map, covered in via, via, via. The Italian mountain. Citrus and gulls. I have never been to Italy,
let alone to Capri. And I have never been to an island so small.
When the New York Times reporters write about 808s & Heartbreak, they write how it came after
"[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]" with the death of his mother in late 2007 and, in early 2008, breaking up with his
They don't name her. Alexis Phifer.
If Alexis is the woman in "Heartless," in the video, thank you for covering her dress in stars.
I have planned my wedding — sent the invitations, tasted all the cakes, bought my dress, named for its
sweetheart top, and sparkling. My mother has rsvP'd.
I got engaged in the courtyard of a museum in Philadelphia — Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Mummies resting behind us, and sculptures from China.
The past pushes us.
I lament what you have lost even if you do not still love her.
I think of all the coves of Capri — Cala del Lupinaro, Cala del Rio, Cala di Mezzo, Cala Spravata, Cala Marmolata, Cala di Matermania. And Kapros, meaning wild boar.
LIKE THE POEMS DO
and Noah answers,
"Is Kanye rapping like Snoop Dogg there?"
"No. His jaw is wired shut."
"Is that Common?"
"Yes. They're friends. They're both from Chicago."
Noah's been listening to rap since middle school. He used to make tapes off the radio and listen to them until they broke.
I grew up saying, I listen to everything but country and rap.
Recently, I spent another evening researching Kanye.
This time about his 2004 debut album, College Dropout.
"Through the Wire" came out fast, without permission for the sample of Chaka Khan's "Through the Fire."
I tell Noah. We're on our computers,
across the room.
He pulls up Khan's song; I pull up Kanye's music video.
The room is a mess of sound.
I tell Noah how Kanye kisses his hand, places it on a larger-than-life poster of Khan.
Is there a poem of Kanye as a teenager, loving the woman who sings, too,
"I'm Every Woman"?
A smaller poster in his smaller room.
Noah with posters of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill,
if he were the sort of boy to have posters.
Noah and I move to the bedroom soon,
and every night. Noah lets me
bring Kanye in,
knows our life has room for all of it.
While swallowing a prenatal vitamin before bed, I'm watching an MTV interview with Rick Ross about how you taught him to see music in colors.
He calls you Ye, pronounced yay, dropping Kan.
Musical terms, held onto from Italian, found on printed music, begin with con
because they begin with with.
Con espressione, con moto, become, informally,
espressione, moto, spirito, affetto, dolore, forza, gran, molto, fuoco,
larghezza, slancio, sordino, anima, brio, amore. Shook free.
And we should love our own sounds.
Feeling, movement, spirit, affect, sadness, force, great feeling, much feeling, fire,
broadness, enthusiasm, muted tone, feeling again, and vigor, and tenderness
Another connection between you and Italy, between you and music. Another way to say beautiful things that I have learned tonight.
If bellies stirred before babies were big enough, mine'd be kicking.
This poem could start, "I love you," instead of ending there.
It could start, "Music."
The key to this poem is connecting this sentence,
from the lyrics of Kanye's "Jesus Walks"
to this sentence,
Show 'em the wounds
from a making of video that follows
the making of the third music video
for "Jesus Walks."
Kanye said, after the first two videos, "I still felt like I didn't have the hood, and that's what Jesus walks for, it's for the hood."
I can think, have thought, of great line breaks for that quote. Already had to think of punctuation.
The man who said, "Show 'em the wounds," is, I imagine, a friend of Kanye's. But Kanye's not around for this:
"I'm here with my n****, Romeo, looking smooth and shit. You know what I'm saying.
Official, n****. How many times you got shot?"
"Nine," he's grinning and lifts up his shirt.
"Nine times goddamnit, and he ain't even no rapper, bitch." Pause. "I'm with my other
n****," the man to his left, "how many times you got shot, n****? Tell 'em."
"Show 'em the wounds. Show 'em the wounds, show 'em the wounds." And he adds, "I ain't
never got shot but my n****s did."
Stars all across my paper. Stars when I look at something blindingly beautiful. When I fall. When I first learn of stars.
Someone on the production crew yells out, "Come on in pigeon holders." Someone says, "I got dirt and blood standing by."
Many voices behind Kanye's repeat, "Jesus walks."
An actor — the one lit on fire for the video, the one carrying a cross big enough to carry him — says to the camera, "I hope people take it the right way."
My favorite music video of the three has this man in it.
Maybe for the fire behind Kanye that rises and recedes in that hallway like the breath.
Maybe because when the police cut open a pack of cocaine in the trunk of a car filled with packs of cocaine, a dove comes out, shaking powder from its head. I count at least fifteen flying from the trunk.
A woman sings that she wants Jesus with the fullest lips I've seen in years, a voice like no woman I know.
I believe in her, in Kanye.
But what is it when I believe bullets leave the shapes of stars?
Kanye, if only I could write a poem for you and not about you.
THE WEEK KANYE JOINED TWITTER
We find there are fewer dinosaurs when we learn how the skulls age.
Shifting horns, bones that thin and smooth, holes that form like some desires do. Changes we couldn't anticipate, knowing mostly our simple, fusing domes.
You begin tweeting.
I learn about your suits, videos,
jets, pillows, the new words you picked up overseas. You take a picture of your diamond and gold teeth. You make a joke about a crown so lovely I see it on nymphs in daydreams.
Sometimes I see
my curly head of hair outlined in the morning dark and think I'm the lovechild of actresses and lions.
But today I see the functionality of my face and not whether I'm beautiful. I'm so very animal.
I remember and flare my nostrils.
KANYE'S DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
This I taught to a sixth grader —
mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large
intestine, rectum, anus
— but there's so much more to it than that.
The bile from the liver.
The sections of the small intestine —
duodenum, jejunum, ileum.
The sections of the large intestine —
ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon.
And some go so far as to note the sigmoid colon.
of this in particular,
"normally lies within the pelvis,
but on account
of its freedom of movement
it is liable to be displaced"
Oh god, the uneasy organs.
All the sphincter muscles (just like the ones in our eyes).
All the peristalsis.
Even a vestigial organ.
I love the digestive system. The bits about how long the small intestine is.
The small intestine in an adult human measures on average
about 5 meters (16 feet), with a normal range of 3–7 meters.
It can measure around 50% longer at autopsy
because of the loss of smooth
How they will go on to say,
That's the height of a giraffe!
The length of a Humpback Whale calf at birth!
The length of the letters individually undone in this very book!
Kanye must know, from his year in China, that there,
the heart is not what controls love.
It is the stomach, the gut,
that which moans in the night.
Along the Juniata, the gray stones,
gray squares in the grass,
keep the hills from the road, keep them where they are.
When we pass the stones,
like the Earth's stitches,
I know we're about to see a rock face following a bend in the road,
where the strata bend like sound waves.
It's clear God is below the Earth, not above —
his head, giant frame for the planet —
and he makes a sound that makes the Earth.
But first I thought of Kanye's head singing, singing, singing into that rock.
the fallible face
KANYE WEST, "Through the Wire," line 6 of verse 2
The world's on the back of a turtle, on the back of a turtle, on the back of a turtle,
on the back of Kanye.
Eve gave Kanye the apple — after Kanye was formed of dust from the ground.
Kanye was raised by a nymph and not eaten by his Titan father.
With a giant axe, Kanye separated the murky Yin and clear Yang.
Kanye once grew from the ocean and reached the clouds in the sky.
And Kanye almost died in a car accident,
so he became a star.
GOD CREATED NIGHT AND IT WAS NIGHT
Let there be Kanye at the wheel of a black SUV.
Let Kanye fall asleep.
Let the SUV hit another car with another man.
Let that man's legs break and be broken.
Let Kanye be trapped in the car.
Let there be the men that cut him out.
And there was evening and there was morning.
Let Kanye's mother and girlfriend arrive.
Let the women take care of him.
Let Kanye see his face.
Let the doctor reconstruct his face.
Let Kanye have the breath of life.
Let Kanye lie that he had not fallen asleep.
And there was evening and there was morning.
Let Kanye tell the truth.
Let Kanye's jaw be wired shut.
Let Kanye write a song.
Let Kanye sing it through that wire.
Let the song reach over all the earth.
Let lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon Kanye.
Bring forth Kanye according to his kind.
KANYE'S SKELETAL SYSTEM
206 bones, filled with marrow, connected by tendons, ligaments, fitted in joints,
divided into axial and appendicular skeletons.
Bones break, fracture. They bruise. Sometimes,
The Googled images for this show
scans and x-rays of knees, and couples kissing,
and pictures of Rihanna with Chris Brown.
Oh god, fact-checker.
Kanye has broken his bones.
But no matter how many places the skull is broken, it's only one bone breaking.
First, a baby will have a skeleton completely
In the fourth month of pregnancy, it begins to turn to bone.
And then I'll hold onto those bones forever.
Kanye, I could tell you so many more things about the bones.
I could tell you to drink your milk.
I could imagine you in the 80's "got milk?" ads.
That ad campaign began in 1993.
You're no better. What are you really thinking?
Kanye, did your mother, in her hands,
hold your broken face?
THE FALLIBLE FACE
featuring Emmanuel Levinas
While firemen worked to get Kanye out,
he talked with his mother on the phone,
apologized for getting himself hurt.
The airbag had not deployed and his head had smashed against the steering wheel.
His mother got on a plane.
there is first the very uprightness of the face, its upright exposure, without defense
He was swollen.
He was indistinguishable.
this gaze is precisely the epiphany of the face as a face
His mother wrote how she controlled her expressions,
how she told his girlfriend how to behave.
the epiphany of the face is ethical
Women are familiar with how not to scare someone who's in danger.
The plastic surgeon was a bit of eye candy his mother wrote.
the face ... formulates the first word
It might be love, or attraction, or humanity.
Kanye, you must have a relationship with your reflection I can't understand.
To structure, to surgery, to form.
in the access to the face there is certainly also an access to the idea of God
How did they put you together again?
How did you feel when someone saw you who didn't know
you had ever looked like someone other than yourself?
in the access to the face there is certainly also an access to the idea of God
The metal plate in your chin follows the bone.
The metal plate in your chin might ache.
Regardless of his face, Kanye is not always treated like a man.
THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME I'VE WONDERED
My favorite part of Donda West's Raising Kanye is from the chapter "Through the Wire: The Accident," when she sits at Kanye's bedside contemplating the attractiveness of the doctor, saying even that Billy Dee and Denzel Washington could not compare.
I want to spend my poem smiling.
Billy Dee, Donda? Lando Calrissian of Star Wars? Yes!
But all I can think is, where is your father, Kanye?
Where is he?
Where is he?
Where is he?
After the accident, Kanye West wrote, produced, and recorded a song.
"Through the Wire."
As the title suggests, Kanye rapped every word through his wired-shut jaw.
The first verse says:
Recently, Kanye compared himself to Emmett Till again.
On one website they explain: "discussing the VMA incident ? he compared the backlash he faced to the murder of Emmett Till, the Chicago teenager who was killed for whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi."
People have been outraged, but Kanye must
feel a connection to this boy. And because of Kanye,
Emmett's story is on the internet again and again. 65 years later.
Kanye knows what appropriation is.
SO KANYE TRANSFORMED HIMSELF, PRODUCER TO SUPERSTAR
What do I know about being saved?
In one video game I watch Noah play,
he points his gun at his friend and shoots him to heal him.
My grandfather died despite treatment.
My mother's treatment did everything it should.
And I've never been in danger. I've hardly ever been on high balconies or rooftops.
But Kanye's been at risk. In an interview, he was asked,
"Given that you had a near-death experience as you recount on 'Through the Wire,' what are your beliefs on death? Reincarnation?"
He answered, "I feel like I'm here for a reason."
Why, Kanye? What's the reason?
Kanye said, "I don't believe in reincarnation. Sometimes I wonder if I believe in heaven. I know I believe in Jesus."
I know you believe angels are with you.
This was not your first car accident.
My grandfather was never in car accidents though he was legally blind in one eye.
An instance of saving I failed to notice?
My grandfather believed. He looked at the stars as proof long after he stopped going to synagogue.
Kanye understood his belief —"I think 50% because it was instilled in me.
That's what we call on."
50% because you were saved?
What is it about being saved?
The best I know about saving is from childhood.
Jesus resurrected. Moses parting the sea. A Holocaust survivor.
Or one friend who refused to wear her seatbelt because a relative lived when he didn't wear one.
Miraculous survival. Shock tumble through the air.
And I thought my friend was unreasonable.
I don't know how to be shaken,
to embrace a new belief,
but Kanye does.
Excerpted from "Mr. West"
Copyright © 2015 Sarah Blake.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
"Runaway" Premieres in Los Angeles on October 18, 2010
Ha Ha Hum
Like the Poems Do
The Week Kanye Joined Twitter
Kanye's Digestive System
THE FALLIBLE FACE
God Created Night and It Was Night
Kanye's Skeletal System
The Fallible Face
This Is Not the First Time I've Wondered
So Kanye Transformed Himself, Producer to Superstar
Kanye's Circulatory System
I Want a House to Raise My Son In
On November 10th, 2007, Donda West Died
Three Months, to the Day, Before Taylor Turned Twenty, But Kanye
Hate for Kanye
A Day at the Mall Reminds me of America
Taylor Doesn't Speak Out Against Racism
It's Hard Not To Be Moved
Hate Is For Hitler
Because Kanye Isn't King Kong or Emmett Till or a N****
My Summer with Kanye
I Try Not To See Myself as a Mother Figure
After Donda Died, Kanye Dated Amber
Kanye as a Quantum Particle Yet To Be Observed
God's Face Over Gold
Twilight: Starring Kanye
Kanye Raps, "I••••••••••••••••••••••••" Part 1
Kanye Is Glamorous
I No Longer Have to Look Up Dates Like Your Birthday, June 8, 1977
Kanye Raps, "••••••••••••••••••••••••" Part 2
Notes and Further Reading
What People are Saying About This
“The plagiarism and copyright battles of the twenty-first century are the equivalent of the obscenity trials of the twentieth. If you’re not making art to be copied, you’re not really making art for the twenty-first century. Taking a page from Kanye West’s book, Sarah Blake embraces and enacts the long history of sharing and sampling from rap music, single-handedly and elegantly bringing poetry into the present moment. Media saturated & wildly musical, brilliantly original & stunningly plundered, this book is now.”
“Mr. West transforms the poet’s fascination with the rapper into an amazing group of poems that explores what she knows or can find out about West, alongside her own life. The poems construct West as unmistakably human and larger than lifeas much like as unlike the poet. The work is tender without being sentimental, funny without being cruel, and obsessive without being exploitative. It is a study in nuance and it is strangely moving.”
"Mr. West transforms the poet's fascination with the rapper into an amazing group of poems that explores what she knows or can find out about West, alongside her own life. The poems construct West as unmistakably human and larger than lifeas much like as unlike the poet. The work is tender without being sentimental, funny without being cruel, and obsessive without being exploitative. It is a study in nuance and it is strangely moving."Evie Shockley, author of the new black
"The plagiarism and copyright battles of the twenty-first century are the equivalent of the obscenity trials of the twentieth. If you're not making art to be copied, you're not really making art for the twenty-first century. Taking a page from Kanye West's book, Sarah Blake embraces and enacts the long history of sharing and sampling from rap music, single-handedly and elegantly bringing poetry into the present moment. Media saturated & wildly musical, brilliantly original & stunningly plundered, this book is now."Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Uncreative Writing