Poet unpacks Kanye’s rhymes to celebrate the life of ‘Mr. West’

 Sarah Blake, in her living room in Havertown, Pa., holds a copy of her book, Mr. West, an unauthorized biography of Kanye West in poems. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Sarah Blake, in her living room in Havertown, Pa., holds a copy of her book, Mr. West, an unauthorized biography of Kanye West in poems. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

With “Mr. West,” poet Sarah Blake attempts to write an unauthorized biography of Kanye West, in verse.

As a work of literary nonfiction, the book conflates the life of the poet – who began the 46-poem cycle while she was pregnant and living in Havertown, Pa – with the controversial superstar rapper.

She had no access to West, outside of his music, his media interviews, missives from celebrity gossip press, his blog, and his Twitter account. All of which is formidable.

“I had no trouble writing this book,” said Blake, a National Endowment of the Arts poetry fellow.

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“Mr. West” will be published March 9 by Wesleyan University Press.

redactBlake could not get permission to use West’s lyrics, so his verses are redacted in her book. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Following is a mash-up of interview excerpts of Blake and her poems, with those of West and his raps:

“High school was Beatles and Pink Floyd. Then in college it was Belle and Sebastian and Neutral Milk Hotel. Then I met [my future husband] Noah and he made me this mix of hip-hop. I was totally taken. I don’t think I can go back to any other kind of music now.”

“I was jealous of hip-hop – that it was so active in the moment, and poems tend to be timeless. I want to do what hip hop is doing. I want to be active, political, I want to reference the Today show. But my only connection to hip-hop was Kanye.”

Noah with posters of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill,if he were the sort of boy to have posters.

Noah and I move the bedroom soon,and every night. Noah lets mebring Kanye in,knows our life has room for all of it.

– from Sarah Blake’s “Like the Poems Do”

“I wonder…would you rather have 100% from an average person OR 10% from someone who is outstanding?”– from Kanye West’s book “Thank You and You’re Welcome”

“Kanye lost his mother at the end of 2007. I lost my grandfather the beginning of 2008. A year later his ‘808s and Heartbreak’ came out. It was a grief album, and I was writing grief poems. Privately, and his was so public. It was criticized – and I thought: They can’t talk that way about grief.”

I know I said I’m through, but got love for youBut I’m not lovin’ you, the way I wanted toGotta keep it goin’, keep the lovin’ goin’Keep it on a roll, only God knows– from Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown,” from the album “808 and Heartbreak”

“We are so remarkably different. Looking at black America and black men, and masculinity questions, and wealthy black men in America, which he has talked about. And then me, the white woman, middle class, pregnant, I’m in this different phase in life,  a private life — not open to speculation. Where his is constantly in the media.”

sarahBlakes poems explore the strong connection she came to feel with West, despite their very different lives. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The chorus of one of my favorite songs [Barry Bonds] are three throat-clearing sounds –sometimes depicted as Ha Ha Humon lyrics website such as azlyrics.com, lyricstime.com, and anysonglyrics.com.

A sound we make when we talk with the mouths of Jews.Channukah, I’chaim, chutzpah.Voiceless fricative.

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.– from Sarah Blake’s “Ha Ha Hum”

I don’t need to write hits, I might bounce ideas,But only I could come up with some shit like thisI done played the underdog my whole careerI’ve been a very good sport, haven’t I, this yearThey said he’s going crazy and we seen this beforeBut I’m doing pretty good as far as geniuses go.– from Kanye West’s “Barry Bonds”

“I wanted to follow his motivation. He talks about angels following him. He believes in Jesus, he’s very devout. I’m a little bit Jewish, and a little bit nothing. It’s been interesting to watch him. It’s gotten so exaggerated with Yeesus. He said…”

“I’m like a vessel, and God has chosen me to be the voice and the connector.”– Kanye West, interviewed in The Fader, 2008

kanyeKanye West performs at the first annual Roc City Classic in New York’s Flatiron District on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Starpix, Dave Allocca)

“…He feels like God is speaking through him. I don’t feel that way, but I want to honor the way he feels about himself.”

I talked to God about you, he said he sent you an angelAnd look at all that he gave you.You asked for one and you got two.You know I never left you‘Cause every road that leads to heaven’s right inside you.– from Kanye West’s “Only One”

“Related to Jesus is something that has been in his work for so long. I really enjoy that connection he feels. Maybe because I don’t feel it. I think it’s fascinating and a joy to write about.”

Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.But his eyes are like man’s. His voice overflows.So it must be his mouth, his tongue unrolled.Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.I think he hears prayers when nights are cold.He can’t be a man when his heart’s a rose.Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.But his eye’s are like man’s. His voice overflows.– Sarah Blake’s “God’s Face Over Gold”

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