Book Review: Sarah Kay, No Matter the Wreckage
Book: No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
Rating: 4/5 dreamy-eyed poets
Recommended if you like: Poetry that swims in its own earnestness with a touch of humor.
First lines: “I will wake you up early, / even though I know you like to stay through the credits.”
Published: Write Bloody Publishing, 2014
First I have to say, I love Sarah Kay as a spoken-word poet. She’s been rapidly gaining popularity since her 2011 Ted Talk, in which she performed one of her most well-known poems, “B.” She also discussed her program, Project VOICE, where she travels to different schools and teaches the value of poetry to children who haven’t necessarily been exposed to creative writing as a form of expression. So she’s a pretty admirable person, and I adore her writing in the way I’ve consumed it so far—watching it.
Reading her poetry is a different experience. Thankfully, Kay holds up well without her charismatic performances to back up her words. She has a solid control of language, and her hyper-earnest voice appeals to me as a fellow hyper-earnest person. The collection is long and sprawling, spanning out over her entire career from the time she was a teenager. It comes in at 143 pages with nine sections.
As much as I enjoyed it, the collection did feel a bit long and at times jumbled. I spent time trying to figure out which ones she wrote in her youth and which ones came later. I almost wish for a collection of recent works to show me where Kay is at this moment.
Nevertheless, this is a great collection for fans of Kay, new and old. The favorites are there, and so are some really strong, hidden gems.
Strangely, I wasn’t as impressed by the written versions of the poems I already knew. “The Type” is probably my favorite poem for encouraging fellow women, and she performs it beautifully (watch it here). In text, it has too many hard stops—too many breaks in the flow. Maybe it’s because I can’t get her sinuous voice out of my head, but overall I don’t like the formatting of the poem in print.
I found some new favorites in the collection, and some that work especially well on the page—cementing Kay as a poet who can do both. In fact, I think some of her poems in “No Matter The Wreckage” work the best written. One of my favorites is “Forest Fire,” which simultaneously deals with her family’s grief about her sick grandmother and a series of forest fires in Santa Cruz. Kay blends these topics well, showing that her grandmother’s illness is as uncontrollable as the flames:
“It really goes to show it doesn’t take
much with these dry conditions to start a fire,
a Cal Fire spokesman will tell CNN on Sunday.
Fire officials have been working tirelessly, but
controlling something this big is impossible.”
Another of my favorites, “Ghost Ship” wraps the image of a damaged ship around Kay’s relationship with her brother. The name for the book also came from the following stanza:
“Oh, brother. No matter your wreckage.
There will 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.
Someone will come to sing into these empty spaces.”
Sometimes Kay gets a little wordier than I’d like and doesn’t trust an image to carry the weight on its own. She even warns a lover (and the reader) of this in “Love Poem #137,” in which she says, “There will be…more words than are necessary.”
However, Kay does employ one of my favorite literary devices common in spoken-word poetry—a smart use of repetition. The repeating themes echo themselves, in the same poems and sometimes in poems much farther along in the book.
And Kay’s voice carries throughout, always earnest in its desire to make the reader understand. There aren’t many tricks or ambiguous thoughts here. Kay is a poet who is striving to make a connection—to express herself clearly to the reader. And, on the whole, “No Matter the Wreckage” succeeds fantastically at that.