The first poem in Sarah Blake’s new collection is titled “Suicide Prevention,” and it begins with a mention of new signs at the local train station for the Lifeline. The third line, set off by itself, reads “I’m glad my son can’t read yet,” and in that moment we get two of the major themes that run through this book—the constant presence of violence and the often overwhelming responsibility of parenthood.
Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your copy of Let’s Not Live on Earth, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Barbara Jane Reyes, you’ll need to to subscribe by November 20!
I have twins, almost four years old, and I couldn’t get this poem out of my head for the longest time. It moves into the knowledge that some day, you’ll have to talk to your kid about death, and the dizzying complexity that accompanies that seemingly simple word. These lines come about three-fourths of the way through the poem:
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.
I don’t know that I’ve ever ranked potential deaths in this way, but I think I would come up with the same order, the vague “death by natural causes” to suicide.
The second almost-half of this book is an epic science-fiction poem titled “The Starship,” which was first published in Berfrois (and here’s where I confess: I had a chance at publishing this and didn’t act quickly enough, and that’s part of the reason I chose this book). It’s a kind of utopia story, by which I mean it imagines a situation where the kinds of daily violence that humans are confronted with are mostly gone. There’s a starship which takes willing humans away into space, where they stop at other dying planets and take on more passengers until they finally stop at the starship’s home planet. Here’s the utopia bit:
They explain that we can live longer
if we want. Their medical advances
are significant. They explain that crime
is not tolerated, and that racism, sexism,
and other prejudices are are criminal. They
will provide therapy to anyone who
recognizes they need help to adjust.
And it is hard to believe. All of it.
Especially today, in a country where white supremacists are feeling more powerful than ever, and where sexual predators are being exposed on a daily basis, this sounds like a pretty awesome future. It’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t be an improvement on what we have right now. But it’s not perfect, and Blake does an impressive job teasing out the complications of such a society.
I’m really looking forward to talking with Sarah Blake and Poetry Book Club members about this complicated and fascinating book. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by November 20 to get your copy of Let’s Not Live on Earth and participate in our exclusive chat with Sarah about the collection!