Review: Sara Sutterlin’s I Wanted to Be the Knife

Cover of Sara Sutterlin's I Wanted to Be the Knife

Cover of Sara Sutterlin’s I Wanted to Be the Knife

A bullet point review. Some thoughts about I Wanted to Be the Knife, a chapbook by Sara Sutterlin which recently came out on Montreal’s Metatron press.

By Alex Manley

1) The title, drawn from a mid-book poem, is beautiful, and encapsulates perfectly the tension in the poems—the pull, on the one hand, of the real, that is, life and its mundaneness, and the pull, on the other hand, of the desired, that is, the violence that Sutterlin’s speaker (and many, I imagine of her readers) feel in their hearts. Millennials may get accused of political apathy, but no one can accuse us of being robots, devoid of feeling. We all want to be the knife, at times—but often we are just the softening butter.

2) Sutterlin’s caustic anger in poetry reminds me of Marie Calloway’s caustic anger in prose, though Calloway prided herself on a style that was devoid of artifice (an overarching artifice in itself, but a convincing one), Sutterlin’s poetry neither rejoices in it nor eschews it. But the two writers’ catalogues are both characterized by a sense of warfare with men, and, where society conditions most women to turn the other cheek, their writing instead comes out swinging.

3) Sutterlin writes the kind of poetry I wish I was brave enough to write—stripped-down, bloody, bare-knuckle poetry, whose strength is in its honesty, its anger, and its little details—which doesn’t rely on structural acrobatics or lexical pyrotechnics. It’s to the point, and that’s how it makes you feel.

4) The book opens and closes on lines about penises: (“Your dick is crooked/I didn’t brush my teeth today” + “I imagine him and his Sad Penis/and what they think of Me.”). A sort of semantic rhyme. As D. Dragonetti points out in his thoughtful review, there’s a degree of gender essentialism to it, but the penises function as a marker of the toxic aspects of masculinity—powerful, pushy, penetrating, but looked at from a different angle, also fragile, and a little ridiculous. Men are a nightmare from which Sutterlin’s speaker is trying to awake, and an addiction Sutterlin’s speaker is trying to shake.

5) Still, the strongest poems, to my mind, are the ones that meander through the middle of the book’s 26 pages, speaking about food in a way that feels neither accidental nor obvious. Chocolate pear cake, chicken, butter, burritos trailing bits of lettuce, breastmilk, and repeated mentions of wine give the lines, situations and emotions a tangible quality, and help elevate I Wanted to Be the Knife beyond the kissing-and-telling poetry that tends to piss off the same people who get mad about Twitter and smartphones.

6) Sutterlin’s first book is a quick read, but a memorable and invigorating one, and serves as a tantalizing appetizer for her work to come, while also bolstering a remarkably strong poetry lineup for the still-young Metatron, along with volumes like Marie Darsigny’s A Little Death Around the Heart and Olivia Wood’s A Work No One Told You About.

Alex Manley is a Montreal-based writer. His work has appeared at HTMLgiant, Shabby Doll House, Banango Street and Maisonneuve magazine, among others.