Why I Chose Ariel Francisco’s A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club


Every so often, especially when the Midwest winter temperatures threaten to burst the bottom of the thermometer and create mercury-sicles, I think about moving back to south Florida, to the place my wife and I called home together for six years, where her family (and my adopted one) mostly still lives, to the thick, humid air pushed across the parking lots by ocean breezes and the traffic and the musical collisions that fight for supremacy from every car window and a Pollo Tropical quarter chicken with black beans and rice and the knowledge that before too long, maybe before I’m dead if I live my natural lifespan, it all be underwater.

The second poem in Ariel Francisco’s A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship is titled “Sinking City,” and it compares Miami to a “cruise ship lost at sea with no / lifeboats, throwing an all night / dance party.” Forgive me, but I’m going to probably over-explain this metaphor a bit. Florida is built on limestone, which means as the ocean levels rise, the water is coming up from below, no matter what engineers try to do to stop it. Seawalls won’t work. Pumps won’t work. The water is coming. Local authorities have known this for some time, but because those with political power who wish to deny that global warming is happening or that anything can be done to stop it, the response has been to, among other things, raise the roads and pretend like everything is going to be okay. A story from the Miami Herald last May talked about a new hotel with a port on the roof for flying cars to land on. All this is, as the poem continues, “music and stamping feet / drowning out the sound of taking / on water.”

Before I tell you more, a quick reminder that in order to receive your early copy of A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship, read along with the Poetry Book Club, and participate in our exclusive chat with Ariel Francisco, you’ll need to subscribe by March 15!

The poems in this collection aren’t just focusing on global issues; they’re often intensely personal as well. Take, for instance, the poem “Getting a Flat Tire on the Turnpike Just Past the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino,” which begins with the lines “I hate that I recognize the sound / of an exploding tire, yet here I am / again.” So much weight lands on the word “again” starting that third line, the way it deepens the speaker’s condition, not just the inconvenience of having a flat, but that it’s happened enough times that it’s not even a surprise anymore. There was a time in my life where I didn’t even bother fastening the jack back down in the part of the trunk where it was supposed to be secured, because I knew I’d be pulling it out again before long.

This book means a lot to me because Florida is so often reduced to theme parks and caricatures and the opinions of tourists who’ve been there on vacation and are happy to tell you about how well they know it, as though they developed deep relationships with the bartenders who pretended to listen to them (but not the invisible people who cleaned their hotel rooms) during their week in the Keys or in Celebration. And it means a lot to me that this book is multilingual, with the poems translated into Spanish by José Nicolás Cabrera-Schneider, because that’s what Florida is, too—a place where languages rub up against each other, sometimes playfully and sometimes with fists. It’s a real place and it deserves real voices talking about all of it, and in this collection, Ariel Francisco does it justice.

I’m looking forward to talking more about A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship with our members and with Ariel Francisco in our exclusive online chat. Subscribe to the Rumpus Poetry Book Club by March 15th to receive your early copy and make sure you don’t miss out on our author conversation!

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →