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Book Review: No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

Book Review: No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

In eighth grade, I carried around a little blue notebook with me filled with poems that moved me. Among my favourites were “Hope” by Emily Dickinson, “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, and “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats. Eventually this notebook fell by the wayside as I gave in and started buying volumes of poetry books and started writing my own poetry in a big, paisley patterned notebook. My love for poetry blossomed. And then I stumbled upon a youtube video of Sarah Kay -- and I was instantly captivated.

If you grow up the type of woman men want to look at,
you can let them look at you.

Do not mistake eyes for hands.
Or windows. Or mirrors. 

Let them see what a woman looks like.
They might not have ever seen one before.

Combining performance and literature, introduced me to a new type of poetry: visceral, personal, and always relatable. Kay released her debut print anthology of old and new poems in 2014 after ten years. Entitled No Matter the Wreckage, I immediately sought out the slim volume to read and re-read for months to come.

Sarah Kay has taught me a lot about survival. In my favourite poem by her, she drew inspiration from a line from one of Richard Siken’s poems that goes, “Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else,” and guides women through the emotional throes of a relationship. Kay listens to us, and speaks the words we long to speak. She crafts lines with deft lyricism as seen through her use of repetition and unique imagery: Discovering the ocean after years of puddle jumping. Singing along to a car-alarm heart. 

The blend of well-known favourites to unfamiliar poems are perfectly balanced. Poems previously unpublished / unperformed are tucked among oldie-but-goodies such as “Private Parts”, “Forest Fires”, and “From a Toothbrush to a Bicycle Tire”.  Kay transports us to the heat in “India Trio” and paints a picture of its gentle, golden light: When this heat becomes the only lover / to hold, the only weight / that feels familiar anymore. She carries us in flight in “Jetlag”, and asks us, How fast does a body fall / when it is not yet in its own time zone? / Where did I leave summer? And finally, she takes us back to the second grade and introduces us to her brother in “Ghost Ship”, and comforts him as she comforts us: 

Oh Brother. No matter your wreckage
There will always be someone to find you beautiful,
Despite the cruddy metal. Your ruin is not to be hidden
Behind paint and canvas. Let them see the cracks.

Sarah Kay holds us in her poems, and urges us to live, to create, to be grateful, to survive. Her words stay in my mind, and whispers to me:

Know you are the type of woman
who is looking for a place to call yours.

Let the statues crumble.
You have always been the place.

You are a woman who can build it yourself.
You were born to build.


Photo credit: halfrain via flickr.com / CC BY-SA

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