What is there to say about Sarah Kay’s poetry collection No Matter the Wreckage? What can one possibly say about a bright mind, prone to admirable random verse off the beaten path? For anyone looking to go on a reflective journey of life’s smallest and greatest personal events, this is where you’ll find that adventure.
While reading Kay’s poems, you find yourself drifting, afloat amongst the perilous waves, and just when you think you’re about to crash onto a deserted shoreline, you’re scooped into a life raft with others who have also survived the wreckage. Connecting with her poetry is like reaching over in the dark and finding another hand to grasp. The poems themselves make it feel like you’ve been deposited right back to that summer after high school graduation when everything felt fresh and raw and complicated, all at the same time. If you reach down far enough into your pockets, you can pull out one of Kay’s poems, vibrant and writhing and ready to eat you alive (I will love you with too many commas, / but never any asterisks. “Love Poem #137”). It’s almost as if you’re pulling a loose thread on your shirt and it just keeps unraveling, until you’re standing there naked in front of a room of your closest friends.
The vivid accounts of urban life, lost connections, encounters, and family permeate this collection. It’s clear Kay and her brother heavily influence each other, despite Kay alluding to her sibling as being two steps ahead of her every move. In “Ghost Ship,” we witness the playful protectiveness and camaraderie between the two:
Full speed ahead. Prow to stern. Fore and aft.
We climb until we are scraped and muddy.
Rust children with lighthouse eyes…
Oh Brother. No matter your wreckage.
There will be someone to find you beautiful…
Someone will come to sing into these empty spaces.
Their voice will echo off your insides like a second-grader
and her little brother—four year younger, two steps ahead.
Singing ‘til the metal vibrates. ‘Til the ghost ship rings.
If you’ve ever seen Kay perform in person, you’ll be able to brightly envision her in front of a lucid group as you read this collection, lyrically weaving her spoken word pieces, wrapping them around each individual soaking in her performance and jettisoning them into the back alleys of their memories. She brings us back to the first time our heart beat for someone other than ourselves, back to the first inklings of adolescence-brimming-with-adulthood, and back to the pure honesty and childhood wonder of all relationships forged around us. In “Jellyfish,” we see Kay age in front of us—we witness her moment of clarity:
And somewhere in between then and now irony slipped its way into my vocabulary. Laughter became the antidote for guilt. Sacrifice grew to be a Band-Aid for shame… Somewhere in between then and now I learned that every move you make echoes outwards from your body like ripples on the ocean from a skipping stone. It is what has taught me that Karma is as tangible as the taste of seawater.
There’s one thing I would’ve loved to see this collection come with: an auditory accompaniment of Kay’s voice performing the same poems being offered for us to read in text. It’s one thing to read and digest her words; it’s another thing entirely to witness the rise and fall of her voice, as she waxes poetic with all the passion of a mentor excited to share what she knows with the world.
Kay’s poems make you want to befriend her; walk down the street with her arm in arm. Her collection truly captures that feeling, as if you and she are frozen in a single moment, reminiscing about adolescence and young adulthood together. These poems are for the strong-willed and the faint of heart; for sister sun soldiers and armies of the night; for all those who believe in fairy tales and those who have grown out of them. Kay’s poems exist because they are each our own; they are memories and experiences we all have had. And there’s a majestic beauty in that simplicity.
A performing poet since she was 14 years old, Sarah Kay is the founder of Project VOICE, an organization that uses spoken word poetry as a literacy and empowerment tool. Project VOICE runs performances and workshops to encourage people to engage in creative self-expression in schools and communities around the world. Kay holds a Masters degree in the art of teaching from Brown University and an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Grinnell College. Her first book, B, was ranked the number one poetry book on Amazon.com. Her second book, No Matter the Wreckage, is available from Write Bloody Publishing.