These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.
17 of 100: Let’s Not Live On Earth by Sarah Blake (2018, Wesleyan University Press)
Quick, personal thoughts:
- This book concerns itself with so many things that occupy — or have occupied — my own mind: death, divorce, motherhood, gun violence, rape, etc. And it also considers how to talk about these parts of life on Earth with our children. And then it does something fascinating: the entire second section imagines leaving Earth behind entirely and going to a place without any of those things. As a writer, I really dig the approach to difficulty: by (metaphorically at least) getting as far away from it as possible. (Spoiler alert: it likely isn’t possible.)
- “The Starship” is the long poem that is the entirety of the book’s second section. It’s available in illustrated form at Berfrois. The first section is here; I’ve linked to the full poem below. It’s a poem about leaving Earth behind, and I can’t say enough about it. It’s part science fiction, part domestic confessional. It contains so much: marriage, infidelity, weed and cookies, government, space exploration and pregnancy, for example. It rewards and questions our human restlessness as a driver of both happiness and discontent. When we move on, what do we leave behind and why? What do we take with us intentionally? And what comes along in our cells/beings that we may not be able to shed? “The Starship” is delightful. And heavy. It’s both.
- Speaking of “both,” another long poem in the collection examines the false dichotomy of “us and them” when it comes to monsters. Who is one and who isn’t one? In “Monsters,” a poem in 26 sections, Blake’s lines are so simple and alluring: “Boom boom boom. Monster feet. / Chomp chomp chomp. Monster teeth.” But the poem builds, like Frankenstein, in a way. The presence of the monster grows, and our knowledge about drives and animates monsters deepens. At the same time, we begin to understand the monster inside the narrator (which is all of us): “Fee Fi Fo Fum / A giant’s not a monster // Even I can be monstrous” Even the narrator’s baby could be a monster: “Think, too, if you lifted your baby’s shirt / and found eyes in the soft skin there. // Think if you found a mouth / chewing quietly on the hem.” This poem is another fun read that leaves the reader with something heavy to think about: what’s human nature? what’s monster nature? and how is that different from what we would just call nature (like hawks vs. squirrels)?
Lines I want to remember:
- “Before I tell my son about suicide, I want to / tell him about murder, I want to tell him / about dying of an illness, about dying in sleep. // It feels awful to hold that plan inside me, to know this ranking of death. // Do I tell him about genocide last?”
- “Later I’m crying in bed watching Cake Boss because Buddy recreated the top tier of his wedding cake for his wife on their anniversary and handmade all the sugar flowers, and she cared about that. // Not that I’m judging her. I’d like to be a woman delighted by cake. … No– I’m hoping there’s a woman that’s at ease somewhere. So at ease in her life.”
- “I think my anxiety isn’t mine at all. I think it’s communal.”
- “Ok, so you know someone who’s dying right now / Except maybe not horrifically / Except your idea of horrifically is changing”
- “as my own scar, // that gave way to another body, sits neatly purple, nearly / beneath me (if it were not so central)”
- “This torn / state cannot stand. I feel like I’m being / reborn out of the tear in my empire / which looks like a vulva / because all tears look like vulvas. / Sometimes I spend weeks thinking / there are only phallic symbols. / But then the tearing. / And my new head is pressing forth / until it can be seen.”
- “they don’t believe in living on Earth anymore. // They don’t believe in it at all.”
- “… the knock at the door startles you. / It’s your neighbor. / When you look at him out the peephole, / he is looking at the starship. / You begin sleeping together. / It’s easy to say fear / had something to do with it. / End times. Fleeting-ness.”
- “Everything isn’t back to normal. / Just because you can go to stores again / and people aren’t crying in the street.”
What others have said:
- from Rob McLennan’s blog: “Blake’s poems attempt to negotiate physical, personal and cultural space, referencing depression, marriage and gun culture, and the knowledge of having to eventually explain certain things, including suicide, to her son. … If the first section specifically explores her anxieties, what becomes curious is in how the second section explores leaving everything behind, which slowly makes clear how many of those same issues, and same anxieties, remain.”
- Sarah’s own words in an interview at Connotation Press: “Because of how women are portrayed all around us, specifically mothers, the poems that come out of that gaze have to fight and subvert the gaze in order to win over that same feeling of “newness.” And that’s what editors are looking for, or so we’re told. … We have a lot of work to do. And, yes, thankfully, we have a lot of women who are not waiting for the change, but are taking up the fight and making the best damn art we can so that motherhood and the perspective of a mother is valued and seen as the very strange thing it is.”
Where some of the poems from this collection live online:
- “Neutron Star” (audio)
- “For Max“
- “Watching TV, Seeing the Shot Woman,” “Dear Gun” & “I Thought It Was a Good Idea to Walk to CVS with My Son on a Ninety Degree Day” (three poems)
- “The Safety of Women“
- “The Starship” (illustrated installments published at Berfrois)
Have you read this collection? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!