Reviewed: Baby by Sara Sutterlin Published by: Metatron, Montreal, 2017
On the radio, I heard Drake say, “a lot of girls think this song is about them. I just want to clarify, this song is about you.” Sara Sutterlin begins Baby by saying, “these poems are about everyone but especially you.” In both Drake and Sutterlin’s refusal to pivot into the third person, this you becomes simultaneously specific and generic, a mode of address both pointed and universal. This you constitutes an ambiguous addressee. Pointed is to private as universal is to public; Sutterlin’s poems serve to explode these mutually constituting realms. “Let’s talk about/the Private/And the very small,” she writes in “L*ve,” going on to say, “In the morning/the kitchen smells/like Last Night/It eats where/we eat/And we let it.” Throughout Baby, she continues to outline these fraught domestic spaces, spaces of shaky privacy. Privacy can envelope you of its own accord: “Some houses walk into you,” she writes in an untitled segment towards the beginning of the book. The book closes with “Polpette,” which invokes “the nervous energy of/a house that belongs/to no one,” and makes me wonder: is an ownerless house a public space? Here, private inside spills onto public outside, an anxiety of boundaries. For Sutterlin, public space is made up of socially sanctioned inherent goods like Beauty and Marriage, about which she seems to feel venomously ambivalent: “Marriage is too public,” she writes, going on to say, “Beauty is always public/but/Ugliness can be made private.”
What excites me about these trembling realms of public and private is how they slip into each other, bypassing any stable locating of tu or vous, singular or plural. One could yawn at the utterance of these binaries, but Sutterlin makes them a pleasure to think about. She makes deconstruction fun again. In Baby, the I and the you are ugly together, in private. Any social sanctioning of the negotiations between these two shadowy figures would be “too public.” “Is it/public/is it/still mine,” Sutterlin wonders: the hidden slips into view; it was, from the start, a way of being public, of showing it all off. The poems in Baby are ankle length skirts with thigh high slits.
Sutterlin’s poems shape liminal spaces using these abstracted interactions between an I and a you peppered with the concrete—a black car, a gloved hand, Texas, Arby’s, dog bites, fruit, horse hair, romaine hearts. I gobble up these perfectly composed poems one after another. A house slips into view, a house that does not belong to the I, a house that does not belong to you, a house that does not belong to anyone. This house is a dim locus, a stage upon which small dramas between the I and the you can unfold. “Sit shiva for me,” Sutterlin implores, “and/get a little hard/remembering the/Last time.” Sutterlin gestures toward grief and I’m afraid I’ll drop the baby. I’m afraid I’ll drop these delicate compositions. I listen for the words addressed to you and you, tu and vous. Only the smallest words are uttered in the dark. Sutterlin allows me to glance inside at the shaky outside. Sutterlin allows me to peer through the window, at the private, which was, finally, a way of being public.
Clara Lou is a poet, critic and sound artist whose work has been featured in Lemonhound, Imperial Matters, Tagvverk, and Illuminati Girl Gang. Her radio play, The Furniture Supper Club, will be broadcast as part of Glasgow’s Radiophrenia festival later this month.