Why I Chose Malcolm Tariq’s Heed the Hollow for The Rumpus Poetry Book Club

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I’m a sucker for the second-person address in poems. Always have been, at least so far as I can remember. So it’s fair to say that the title of Malcolm Tariq’s debut collection, Heed the Hollow, grabbed my attention before I even opened the book. But as much as that use of command tense, the word choice caught me. “Heed” is not a verb I hear very often these days, though perhaps we should be using it more, and the noun form of “hollow” is one I mostly remember from my time in the Ozarks, or from visiting one of my uncles in rural Tennessee as a kid, where it was pronounced “holler.”

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of Heed the Hollow, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Malcolm Tariq, you’ll need to subscribe by September 15!

So here I am at the cover trying to parse this command, to pay close attention to this space, this cavity, this depression (working on multiple levels there). And then I open the book. The first poem is titled “Power Bottom,” and it starts with the lines, “In church / we said Satan, get thee behind / and I always laughed” and I swear to gods I did, too. Yes, if I wasn’t already going to pay attention after that cover, I was going to now, because Malcolm Tariq said (figuratively) this is going to be an adventure and you will want to take notes.

For instance, there are these lines from “Bop: Black Queer Southern Studies”:

I don’t hate the South. I hate its longing to
forget ruin. I hate its calling of my not name.

and

I don’t hate the South, I hate the Southern—
its brand of voiding and voiding and voiding.

That’s the Quentin Compson reference from Absalom, Absalom! of course, but Malcolm Tariq isn’t losing sleep over the code of white Southern tradition and “morality.” I’m a Southerner myself, and I share Tariq’s feelings about the way especially white Southerners, my cousins among them, still cling to this imagined past that is both glorious and ruinous at the same time.

Faulkner makes another appearance later in the book. in the poem “Callie Barr’s Black Bottom.” Callie Barr was a former slave who cared for Faulkner and his brothers in their youth. She’s buried in the same cemetery as Faulkner, and he arranged for her tombstone which reads, “Mammy, her white children bless her.” But just after quoting that tombstone, Tariq asks the next question, “where then now her black children / listened and watched that doing / going back into the shadows / after she lay buried in the maid’s / uniform as they say she requested.” Barr reportedly entertained young William and his brothers with stories and histories of both the ante- and post-bellum South, and she served as model for multiple characters in Faulkner’s novels, but in the end, she’s reduced to servant. As if she could ever be anything else. So Tariq’s closing question, “Where then now is Callie?” is a great example of that “brand of voiding and voiding and voiding” that he hates in “Bop: Black Queer Southern Studies.”

I’m just scratching the surface of this incredible debut, of course. But I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for more, and that you’ll consider subscribing to the Poetry Book Club before September 15 so you can receive Heed the Hollow before its release date, discuss the collection throughout the month, and then take part in our exclusive online conversation with Malcolm Tariq!


Brian Spears's first collection of poetry, A Witness in Exile, is now available through Louisiana Literature Press, and at his personal website. He is Senior Poetry Editor at The Rumpus. More from this author →