The first book in my 52 X 2014 project is a collection of poems by Sasha West called Failure and I Bury the Body. I’ll be frank: starting out with contemporary poetry is my veggies. Eating the frog first, so to speak. Poetry has never been a particularly favorite genre of mine, although I do have my favorites: Keats, Ginsberg, Williams, Hughes. (All men! Sheesh!) Nothing any more challenging than a sophomore-level undergraduate survey, though. But I know (and like!) Sasha and her husband and always want to support lady writers, so I thought this would be a fitting way to kick off my crazy plan.
While I can’t speak to how West uses form and poetic designs (I can see that she’s doing things, I just don’t have the vocabulary for them), I was quite struck by the content. Unsettled. Disturbed, even. The collection follows a woman on a road trip with the personification of Failure through the American southwest via Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Kirkuk, the Arctic, and Dallas. Failure and the narrator are joined by Corpse along the way, keeping him alive(ish?) in order to torture and love him, before enacting a thousand different murders upon him. Thoreau, Pound, Dolly the sheep, and Sir Ernest Shackleton make appearances along the way as West articulates Failure as the embodiment of man’s devastating effects on the planet, from fracking and deforestation to war and atomic bombs. It goes without saying that West also engages with the trauma man heaps upon man, as well.
Despite the fact that about 90% of the collection is dystopian bleakness, there is beauty to be found, primarily in West’s language, which took my breath away on more than one occasion. This poem was particularly powerful:
I Tell Failure the True Story of the Corpse
For that half year I was so happy
I pulled down all the generators
all the telephone lines; long lanky summer
while we slowly became wire, I blew
out tires and candles, pushed drills
into derricks and fractured earth
to find the oil, ruined water and wells,
broke teeth and gears. And my happiness
like a bowling ball on a trampoline
pulled towards itself all
disaster– the great-aunts were
buried ten to a plot in the Independence
Cemetery, the uncles lit cigarettes outside
pulled smoke into tumors
while the snow stuck in their hair
and the spokes of their chairs, and
the junkyards filled with the wreck
of every car in town, and tap water
like lit torches gleamed with fire, and the wars
escalated and reaped bodies, cities, and
our love pulled into our bed the dissolution
of all marriages around us, so we
trailed behind our happiness (tin cans
tied with twine) all that
disappointment in our wake, broken ships
we towed between the icebergs
on our way down to the glaciers
of the pole.
So, that’s the first book complete. Now on to Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.