A Review of “I WANTED TO BE THE KNIFE” by Sara Sutterlin


Or A Review of “I WANTED TO BE THE KNIFE” by Sara Sutterlin

Some poets get all the hate: their poems aren’t worthwhile, they are petty, they are Blonde Women. This is the Sylvia Plath Effect. Why people hate Sylvia Plath I do not know. Well, I do know. She was a blonde woman, she was less popular (but better), than her husband, she was dramatic, she was suicidal. She was, for life, a teenage girl. Her amazing book, Ariel, is in every used book store always costing a dollar. Why did we discard her? Why do we discard the emotions and drama of women?

Sara Sutterlin is a poet living and working in Montreal. Her most recent chapbook, I WANTED TO BE THE KNIFE, is being published by Metatron Press. She is also the writer of the popular Tumblr, Sorry Excuse for Sorry. Like Plath, her work has been critiqued as dramatic or teenage. Her Tumblr page has an amazing teenage-girl meets Jenny Holzer aesthetic. Her work is not to be discarded. It is fake and it wants to be fake: “I hate sincerity/ mine and other peoples”. Often fake-ness can be a tool to obfuscate what one is actually saying, to hide. But, in Sutterlin’s work the fake reveals facets of net culture that are proliferating. We are as fake as we want to be. When we confess something that is “fake” (who remembers James Frey?) we are revealing the performative qualities of gender and how this aligns with memory. Memory is language, language is gendered, memory is gendered. These memories expressed in Sutterlin’s poetry commodify an experience while resisting commodification through the fake/real paradox.

Sutterlin’s use of language is familiar and foreign. English is her second language and she navigates it comfortably. “In this town,/ I have no language”. The language encouraged by “mainstream” poetry is not one Sutterlin inhabits. She presents as without a privileged language and emerges with a body (poetic, otherwise) that has been filtered and critiqued. Her work is powerful in the way Chris Kraus’s book I Love Dick puts women’s narrative in the same room as philosophy. Sutterlin’s poems are sparse, intentional, and not stream of conscious. She diligently adheres to poetic form.

If a poet is vulnerable (if their body experiences slippages) they cannot be easily commodified.  The more I read into Sutterlin’s work the more I see haters on the internet vocalizing something preached by MFA classrooms, editors,  and elitist poetry circles. Poetry Must Be Formal. Poetry Must Be Exclusive. In order for poetry to continue to exist at the fringes (where it wants to be), it must continue to market itself as a product for and of intellectuals. This is why people quickly and easily dismiss young women writing break up poems. This is why we (the women) cannot be confessionalist poets and be taken seriously.

Sutterlin pushes us to a point where the poem doesn’t speak for large-scale Experience but is rather relaying the experiences of one. Hegemonic patriarchal poets act like they reveal Higher understanding through obtuse language. Sutterlin doesn’t bother trying to impress, but rather expresses her experiences. In our work towards a more horizontal authority isn’t this what we want?

The chapbook ends with a final goodbye, “I imagine him and his Sad self-worth/ and what they think of Me.” Yes, Cis-White-Turd’s Poetry world: that is your Sad self-worth and Sara Sutterlin doesn’t care what it thinks.

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