THEY CAN'T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US, BY HANIF ABDURRAQIB
Following two chapbooks and one full length book of poetry, Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us is a collection of essays unabashedly invested in emotion. From his candid admiration for Carly Rae Jepson—the “most honest pop musician working”—in “Carly Rae Jepson Loves You Back,” to his exploration of fatalism in early 2000s’ emo and scene culture in “Death Becomes You: My Chemical Romance and Ten Years of The Black Parade,” Abdurraqib’s essays strike like the voice of a friend in the settled silence of a communal bonfire. These essays are about music, sports, blackness, place, kinship, loss, and more—and in all of them, Hanif Abdurraqib is present, not just as writer, but as a feeling-breathing-loving body bearing witness to all of the events that occur therein.
Abdurraqib’s form ranges from lyric to journalistic, and he often weds the two to create a voice that both informs and affects. In an essay on folk punk and substance abuse and small town Midwestern malaise, he writes, “& the headline said ‘WE WILL NOT LET THIS DESTROY US’ & above it is a picture of a mother pulling her young daughter’s frail body close to her chest…& in her eyes she is daring all the devils of hell to come & take what is hers.” What we learn about loss and catharsis in this essay (and many essays), then, is underscored by imagery, gritty and unflinching. These essays resonate because of their vulnerability, their ability to speak readers into a landscape of heartache while refusing to abandon them there.