About the Book

Sharp, lyrical poems celebrating the Black vernacular—its influence on pop culture, its necessity for familial survival, its rite in storytelling and in creating the safety found only within its intimacy

“Terrific . . . illuminates life in this country in a strikingly original way.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • The New York Public Library • Tordotcom

Definition of finna, created by the author: fin·na /ˈfinə/ contraction: (1) going to; intending to [rooted in African American Vernacular English] (2) eye dialect spelling of “fixing to” (3) Black possibility; Black futurity; Blackness as tomorrow

These poems consider the brevity and disposability of Black lives and other oppressed people in our current era of emboldened white supremacy, and the use of the Black vernacular in America’s vast reserve of racial and gendered epithets. Finna explores the erasure of peoples in the American narrative; asks how gendered language can provoke violence; and finally, how the Black vernacular, expands our notions of possibility, giving us a new language of hope:

nothing about our people is romantic
& it shouldn’t be. our people deserve
poetry without meter. we deserve our
own jagged rhythm & our own uneven
walk towards sun. you make happening happen.
we happen to love. this is our greatest
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Listen to a sample from Finna

Praise for Finna

“Simply outstanding poetry.”—Roxane Gay, author of Hunger and Bad Feminist

“I am thankful for the honesty and self-examination in this work, yes. But even beyond that, I am thankful for a speaker who speaks as my people might, yelling across a parking lot or during a card game. I am thankful that this, too, is a part of the honesty this marvelous collection is in pursuit of.”—Hanif Abdurraqib, author of Go Ahead in the Rain and A Fortune for Your Disaster

“Nate Marshall’s terrific new book, Finna, contains poems that jump from tough to witty to tender. Written in a streetwise vernacular, these pieces about what it means to be a Black man in America feel the beat of rap and the burden of history. His search for the ‘Nate Marshall origin story’ illuminates life in this country in a strikingly original way.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“My original blurb was ‘this book decent,’ but I was told that the editor wouldn’t go for that so I am going to tell you instead that this book catalyzes a necessary conversation about Black language practices, culture, ownership, and belonging, and the commodification of Black people’s tongues. . . . So, like I said, this book decent.”—Eve L. Ewing, author of Electric Arches and 1919

“These poems here, these backhand slaps of what-you-didn’t-know-you-needed, finna be that swift fissure in the landscape of lyric. This werk is relentlessly rhythmed, deja-Chi all over again, and it’s finna hit harder than necessary or known. These snippets of precisely bladed black boy gospel, penned by the nonpareil son of the wild hundreds, finna resound and reach an impossible reach—in fact, if karma knows its stuff, this craved-for and combustible collection finna find itself peeking from the back pocket of that other Nate Marshall’s stiff and sturdy MAGA-issued denims.”—Patricia Smith, author of Incendiary Art

“In Finna, I hear Etheridge Knight, I hear Terrance Hayes, but most vividly, I hear Nate Marshall naming his many selves as some flee, others linger, and one in particular threatens to hunt him down. And yes: ‘I feel you Nate Marshall. / i’ve left places & loves / when they told me they loved / a Nate Marshall / I didn’t recognize.’ Don’t be fooled by the calm and assured clarity of this poet’s voice; there is a trip wire hidden in damn near every line break.”—Saeed Jones, author of How We Fight for Our Lives and Prelude to Bruise

Finna is a hip millennium blues song shot through with bolts of joy and humor, an innovative homage to home, and a trenchant critique of so-called race in these so-called United States. Please believe, there ain’t no sophomore slumping for this super talented poet.”—Mitchell S. Jackson, author of Survival Math
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Nate Marshall is a white supremacist from Colorado or Nate Marshall is a poet from the South Side of Chicago or i love you Nate Marshall

when i first made

my name Nate

i was a boy

at summer camp

looking for cool

in the muggy shadow

& so when the white boys

snipped Nathaniel

to just a touch of the tongue

to the mouth roof

it seemed to me

a religious moment,

a new confirmation as okay.

this was 2000 &

you must have been

Nate Marshall

for decades by then.

i find you, years later,

buried in a google search

& follow you silently

for the next year

like a high school crush.

i tell my students about you

the day when we wonder what if

privilege hadn’t put us in

a college classroom.

i tell my ex about you in bed

& it’s convenient that there’s this other

Nate Marshall to be the liar

lying there this time.

i see your failed campaign & watch how your ties

to white supremacists spelled your demise.

my Black history month paper on the Black Panthers

in 3rd grade wouldn’t color me radical enough & i am ashamed

i’ve never been pushed out of a spotlight for loving

my people too much. your day job is roofing & i just watch HGTV

in hotels. you are the truer amongst us Nate. you, peddler of propaganda

& seller of shingles.

can you show me to love how you love?

every time i’ve said what’s good nigga

it’s possible we’ve matched

our mouths, symmetrical

around the two g’s in the middle.

i won’t lie to you Nate Marshall

or to myself Nate Marshall

i too have hated a nigga & lived

to tweet the tale.

i too have sat suspicious in my basement

wondering who was coming for my country.

i too have googled myself & found a myself

i despise.

once, you left Twitter

after i told my people to tell you

that they loved you & your book

& your commitment to Black people

& i feel you Nate Marshall.

i’ve left places & loves

when they told me they loved

a Nate Marshall

i didn’t recognize.

another Nate Marshall origin story

so, for the purposes of this story let’s say

turn of the 20th century my great

grandfather Marshall disappeared

so thoroughly nobody know what he looks like.

so let’s say he’s super high yellow

so much so maybe he’s swarthy

if he stays out of sun & so

in this story he drops my grandpops

& then pulls out of Mississippi to step west

& stretch his legs as a white man.

so let’s say he has a whole white

family with a little boy.

& let’s say he overcorrects

cuz he knows the color

the boy carries without knowing

so he tells the little boy

we don’t associate with those people

& that little boy has a whole lineage

who don’t talk to those people.

so, maybe the name Marshall is just a passing

story we’ll never uncover. maybe he secret

Black like a Hollywood actor. but maybe

he knows & wants his name back

& his body too.

my daddy’s daddy’s daddy or the etymology of Marshall

or a blank space

or a space filled

or a filled job

or a job vacant

or a vacant lot

or a lot of questions

or a question posed

or a ’posed to & ain’t

or a ain’t known

or a known forgotten

or a forgotten name

or a name left

or a left us.

another Nate Marshall origin story

again the white me

on the internet appears

& this time he wants

what is his.

our name

is a country

he claims

for himself.

you need to quit

using my name.

it is not your name. you are

fake! i am Nate Marshall. you are


Nate Marshall calls Nate Marshall

all this.

every Nate Marshall i know

has an unruly name

a word he can’t trace back.

one Nate Marshall deletes


every Nate Marshall i know

is mistaken.

how to pronounce Nathaniel

the southern folk say the a out long ways

pull it apart so the syllables hang loose

as laundry on the clothesline.

the schools i went to,

top ranked & unimaginative,

make it obvious, unimpressive, a stub of an uh sound

compact & efficiently packaged.

my mama says it how she always has

but i can never remember her intonation.

this little blip,   where I   forget my   self.

beloved, how you say it though,

that’s the way it’s said.

i know when you say me

like i’m an incantation

i know i ain’t no lie.

another Nate Marshall origin story

when the obscure meaning

of the name

is no longer an unreachable itch

the mouth will fall away,

both plump lips will dry

& drop from the stupid face.

imagine this, a man

made donut, chest open,

hollow, everything poured

out, available, nowhere

to drum a warning, no place to

keep out.

perhaps our rage

at the other is just the way

we fill what we don’t know

about ourselves.

About the Author

Nate Marshall
Nate Marshall is an award-winning writer, rapper, educator, and editor. He is the author and editor of numerous works including Wild Hundreds and The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. Nate is a member of The Dark Noise Collective and co-directs Crescendo Literary. He is an assistant professor of English at Colorado College. He is from the South Side of Chicago. More by Nate Marshall
Decorative Carat
Random House Publishing Group