“No Matter the Wreckage,” Poems by Sarah Kay- Book Review

sarah kay no matter the wreckageSome reviews, some books, some writers, I just feel inadequate to the task.  Sarah Kay has inspired me here, and I feel kind of speechless as a result.  As someone for whom poetry can sometimes feel like an almost spiritual experience, I don’t feel worthy or capable of doing the book justice.  Yet I feel compelled to say something.

In No Matter the Wreckage, which is not a collection of love poems, Kay writes beautifully of love.  As someone who clearly has loved and has been loved.  I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be loved by a poet, but the glimpses Kay provides here are breathtaking.

From her very first entry (“Love Poem #137”) she establishes herself both as one capable of loving deeply but also of not taking it too seriously.  This is hard for us, the over-thinkers, to fully grasp, but love is a feeling thing, not always a thinking thing.  And it requires, at least at times, abandon, even reckless abandon.  If there is not chance of being destroyed, you’re not doing it hard enough.

There are others, though.  “The First Poem in the Imaginary Book” provides yet further glimpses into what it must be like to love and be loved, as and by an artist.  For a writer, is there any greater prospect than finding yourself immortalized in a book by someone who loves you?  Is there any greater gift, to give or receive?

And I loved how she so clearly understands the helpless one-sidedness that love sometimes is (see “Postcards” at pp. 75-76 “There is a girl who still writes you. She doesn’t know how not to.“) (I have both been and received letters from that girl).

Oh, and young love.  I would love to hear the stories behind the stories.  She captures and portrays the freshness and excitement of first love, and even first like, first attraction, so well. (“Private Parts” p. 88 “The first love of my life never saw me naked…”).

But as I said, these aren’t just love poems, they are life poems, ripe with gorgeously articulated, fundamental truths.  From “Brother” (p. 35), “[t]here are so many things I would tell you/ if I thought you would listen/ and so many more you would tell me/ if you believed I would understand.”  Can’t we all think of someone that line would apply to perfectly?

Or, in “Evaporate,” she beautifully contemplates the passage of time, faster the older we get, and how we forget, and how the days all run into one, and it is exciting and scary at once.

Other times she feels like a soul-mate, speaking my most inner thoughts, exactly as I think them, only better:

“One time there was an X-ray accident.

It left me with a transparent chest.

Sometimes this is inconvenient: like during job interviews

or first kisses.  Sometimes it’s not so bad.” p. 105


I suck at interviews, but not first kisses.

All writers, I think, or all good writers, the ones I like, are observers.  They observe the world around them as literature, taking it all in, and then expressing what they’ve seen as we would have seen it from their vantage, only more artistically.  I loved her “India Trio” (p. 60) for this sensation, and the obligation a writer (even an amateur, mediocre one like myself) feels to certain thoughts and impressions and observations that arrive.  We must write, we must share, we must not squander our talents.

She’s so young, ten years younger than me almost exactly.  But there is so much truth and wisdom in her poems:

“And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn
naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar:
it can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid
to stick your tongue out and taste it.”

-Segment of “B” (p. 98)


“The Paradox” described just about perfectly the struggle between living life and writing about it.  I’m not a successful writer by any means, but this felt very true to me.

This is her debut collection.  I gather Kay is more of a performance poet, and there is something to be said for hearing her share them out loud, just as she intended in terms of cadence and inflection.  Here is a good example.  The struggle of being a woman and finding your voice and identity, as addressed in this particular poem (“The Type”) I think very compelling but perhaps a topic of discussion for another time.

I’m in awe of her as an artist and enraptured with these poems, many of them feeling like reminders of memories I never actually experienced but wish I had.

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