Vulnerabilities at the end of the world

Orchid Tierney

Orchid Tierney reviews three 2021 titles that explore survival in periods of crisis.

Poem That Never Ends, 
Silvina López Medin (Essay Press, 2021)

López Medin’s hybrid collection is a brilliant exploration of family history and the documentary fragment. Bridging poetry, prose, and image, Poem That Never Ends enacts the silences and fissures, vulnerabilities and intimacies within domestic spaces: “I have to be careful when asking questions, or else she’ll say it again: stop.” Hearing loss accompanies the dissolution of familial language and knowledge and leads to repetitions, assemblages, and tentative speech acts: “My mother needs my mouth. Needs my lips to read what I say through them.” This collection is a beautiful rendering of what is torn away from the familial past.

A Feeling Called Heaven
Joey Yearous-Algozin (Nightboat Books, 2021)

A Feeling Called Heaven is a meditation on what it means to be gone after the end of our world. While the apocalypse itself seems foreboding, this long poem underscores the joy of the world’s persistence: “there are moments / here / together / where we can envision the quiet that would exist / without us.” Even at the world’s end, there is space for humanity’s presence, love, and intimacy:  “it’s not despite the destruction of the world / that you’re worthy of love / but because of it / because you’ve helped to usher it in / through these minor acts of annihilation.” While the broadcasting of the world’s end feels relentless at times, A Feeling Called Heaven offers a hopeful refusal of the apocalyptic depression that accompanies many poems on the environment.

Divya Victor (Nightboat Books, 2021)

Both map and archive, Curb locates the quotidian, the immigrant experience, and the racialized body in a period of violence against South Asians. The collection triangulates surveillance, language, and white supremacy to offer a “theory of marking”: “Every migrant body should keep company with its living milestones.” These poems are a series of constant arrivals and coordinates: “We sit, letting history catch up, / but we have oiled our braids well, to slip / out of traps laid for us.” Curb continues Victor’s previous critical engagement with the migrant on thresholds of belonging and disruption in her collection Kith (Fence Books/Book*hug, 2017) and reveals the bonds that hold familial grief and care.