A Multi-Modal Study of Exquisite Blackness: Krista Franklin’s Too Much Midnight

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When I think of my own existence as a Black woman, I think of the histories of joy and grief that have shaped me. What does it mean to live amid ongoing marginalization, violence, and resilience? Too Much Midnight answers this question by calling upon the vastness of Blackness—past, present, and future—to delve into the art of survival. Krista Franklin paints Blackness as an intricate and visceral universe created from the ability to reckon with who we are and where we are going.

Too Much Midnight is a poetic landscape in which Franklin invites history and ancestry to envelope, consume, and rouse us to honor the glory of our origins. She expands the boundaries of what a poetry collection can be and creates a multi-modal experience that brings to life the depth inherent in the Black experience while re-envisioning a future of radical liberation. As an artifact, the 10×10-inch hardcover book is filled with thirty poems and thirty pieces of art. When held, it almost feels like a vinyl record, one that contains multitudes of visceral language, color, and texture. Each of the collection’s three sections renders a different incantation, and when read all the way through, the collection propels us beyond the experience of reading poems. Franklin’s writing, paired with her visual art, builds a complex architecture that compels us to engage, with a variety of sensations, the expansive histories she writes from and through. In doing so, she asks us to reflect on our past and look towards an abounding future we must imagine for ourselves and our communities at-large.

Too Much Midnight is dedicated to and in conversation with the late Monica A. Hand, a Black woman poet, playwright, and scholar. Her two collections, DiVida (Alice James Books, 2018) and me and Nina (Alice James Books, 2012) offer a universe where Black women, past and present, are not only visible but dynamic and alive. Although Monica A. Hand died in 2016, her ancestral presence guides this book as Franklin constructs a world where Black women are the center of the profound experience of what it means to be Black in the United States and agents in the evolution of this identity.

The voices of other innovative contemporary Black artists, such as Maria Eliza Osunbimpe Hamilton Abegunde, Cauleen Smith, Jamila Woods, and Greg Tate appear at the start of this collection. Franklin incorporates this community of voices to prompt us to engage in “revolutionary vision” and a “symbiosis” of the ways Blackness can exist. The second section of the collection, called “Extrapolating Motherhood,” includes a variety of poems that unravel the meaning of birth, motherhood, and rebirth through the lenses of Franklin’s mother, her familial history, and the communal experience of Black motherhood. The poem “Belly” brings us through a journey of birth that starts with “the crumbling black of the body” and ends on an “afterbirth of fire.” This poem serves as a microcosm of what Franklin does throughout this collection, reshaping our understandings of universal concepts like birth through her “revolutionary vision.” In Franklin’s telling, we are not just born, but fervent in our existence. To this, she adds “symbiosis,” the communion of the many voices, and the expansive interpretations of Blackness we are urged to engage with.

The first poem of the collection, “Manifesto, Or Ars Poetica #2” uses the form of a prose poem to shepherd us through this expansiveness. In this hybrid piece, we’re quickly taught how Franklin will be upending conventions of language so that the relationship between poems and visual art can create new understanding.

Black, still, in the hour of chaos, I believe in Royal Crown, Afro-Sheen, Vaseline, Jergens, &   
baby powder on breasts, the collective conscious, cellular memory, Public Enemies, outlaws,  
Outkast, elevations, Elevators & Encyclopedia Britannica. Under my knife, El Hajj Malik El
Shabazz laughs with Muhammad Ali, a Lady named Day cuddles with a Boxer named Mister
after traumatically stumbling on strange fruit dangling from one of the most beautiful sycamores evah.

“Manifesto, Or Ars Poetica #2” operates within duality and collage. Not only are we getting a poem that inserts public figures in Black history, products historically used by Black people, and a reimagining of the grief of “Strange Fruit,” we are also met with Franklin’s visual piece “Big Bang” (2011). The vibrant red colors combined with the stark angles housing this collage illustrate the bold, compelling, and often grief-ridden origins at the core of Franklin’s work. “Manifesto, Or Ars Poetica #2” falls in a section of the collection called “The Killing Floor,” making it impossible to ignore the impacts of racial violence and white supremacy. Later in this poem Franklin writes, “I believe in the ghosts of sixty million or more & Black bones disintegrating at the bottom of the Atlantic…” These ghosts hover through the book. In the poem “Black Bullets,” Franklin writes of how “[s]ixty million spirits caterwaul from a grieving mother’s mouth.” The harm and violence that have hurt Black bodies are ever-present, as are the histories of resistance, survival, and death.

In “It’s the Skin That Tells,” Franklin suggests the racial violence of white supremacy has culminated in generational traumas beyond the Black experience. She writes:

There are many ways to be a slave. To be beasted, beastly,
beast. Many ways to be monster, monstrous, insidious,
insidioused, Auschwitzed. To be dragged, drugged,
worn like a coat, weary. Many ways to be marked, marred,
wrestled, wrecked. And it’s always the flesh that sings,
signs, squeals.

This collection’s visual and written components lead us through the violence and trauma embedded by white supremacy in all our origins. The act of existing in the context of and in opposition to white supremacy is not a singular experience but one that arrives out of a compounding of ancestral archives, each memory begetting its own reckoning and often carried by our bodies, as in “It’s the Skin That Tells”:

It’s the skin that tells the tale.
The tone, marred by chromosomes
of beasts, brothers. The sign of something
insidious risen up in flesh.

The deep care and attention that Franklin pays to the ways Blackness can be experienced positions Blackness as sacred. In “Infinity: A Love Poem” Franklin uses the pantoum form to define the intangible. This poem is dedicated to Franklin’s mother and holds her as omnipotent, as holy. In doing so, Franklin writes herself into this act of consecrating her own mother, rendering her own Black existence as not only important, but divine. She writes:

Buried in the code of your body
The secret to eternity
There is no separateness
Progenitor is progeny

The secret to eternity
Tucked on a shelf in her mind
Progenitor is progeny
Her womb full of others’ children

Through this repetition, Franklin casts a spell, calling upon a past beyond their own, a life of themselves yet way in the future. When Franklin writes “progenitor is progeny” we see the inextricable link between descendent and ancestor. This construction of language exemplifies how identity is being cultivated within this collection. The exquisite nature of Blackness is shaped by an unshakeable past that births present and future moments.

Too Much Midnight culminates with the possibility of a future that arrives from a rich and difficult history and never stops evolving. The last poem of this collection, “Call,” represents an ending that begets beginning, as if Franklin wants to propel us from the page into life itself. She writes, “It is You. Here’s a mirror. Look behind You, beyond You. Here’s a portal. Jump through it. Make Magic. Follow the breadcrumbs, the North Star, the scary crackle of tree branches just ahead in the dark. Take the darkness into your fists and smash it on the warm stones of Daylight. Make Daylight.”

This poem urges us to look within as well as outside and ahead of ourselves. To re-envision, rebuild, and reimagine. In the final visual piece, “Violet Harvest” a person sits, while looking ahead to a hazy, reddish-orange horizon, daring us to look ahead like the subject of the piece, to take “the darkness into your fists” and “make daylight.”

Franklin reminds us of our inherent glory and ability to create. The short commands of “Call” encourage the reader to harness their own energy, their own authority, especially in the midst of darkness or difficulty. In some ways, Too Much Midnight feels like a deep dive into a tarot deck, where we are called to investigate our histories and our grief while also being compelled to create a new experience—one that invites our innate capacity to bring forth our survival, joy, and ability to thrive.

Tatiana Johnson-Boria (she/her/hers) is a writer, artist, and educator. Her writing explores identity, trauma, especially inherited trauma, and what it means to heal. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College and is a 2021 Tin House Scholar. She also serves on the board for VIDA: Literary Arts. Find her work in or forthcoming at Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, and others. More from this author →