I WANTED TO BE THE KNIFE.
These are the lines I read for the book trailer of I Wanted to be the Knife (forthcoming from Metraton Press later this month) and the lines that made me fall in love with Sara Ann Sutterlin. Or, at least, the idea of her, which, considering the content of the book, seems even more appropriate.
I love the idea of myself too. I love being fake. Performativity is by nature inescapable: to generalize, we “perform” ourselves in ways that are conscious and unconscious, both accessible and inaccessible to us, to our agency. Sutterlin’s speaker, accordingly, writers “I hate sincerity/mine and other people’s” (9). I hate sincerity too, because I don’t believe in it. There is no way to preserve or protect an “authentic” sense of self, and if you can resign yourself to that reality, you can live vicariously through your own ideation. That can be quite a powerful thing; Sutterlin’s speaker is a hero of that.
Part of what creates this atmosphere in I Wanted to be the Knife is the imagery of dissociation, as in “Scenes from a Dinner Party”: “We are two little/sweaty egos/I watch you kiss the inside/of my thighs/like you’re doing it to Someone Else” (20). This scene is paradoxical, a physically intimate encounter that, through the psychological distance of the speaker, becomes non-intimate, disconnected from her despite her immediate involvement. It is an echo of the first poem, “Intimacy as I Understand It,” the idea that “love and survival/have nothing to do with each other,” the image of men “looking for purpose/jerking off into webcams” (8). The detachment is significant to the power of the narrative, though it does not seek to be empowered as it parses the objectification, unconcerned with “purpose”: “the fact that you think/I’m Beautiful/gives me the authority” (13), and “Yes, easy to be someone else/because they are attracted to/caricatures” (25).
“Scenes from a Dinner Party” also contains this excerpt: “Thank your g[-]ds/for highways and doorknobs/He’s just semantics, anyway” (16). Despite the fact that Sutterlin’s speaker writes, “In this town/I have no language/only Theirs” (21), the semantics are, ironically, essential to I Wanted to be the Knife. The directness of speech throughout not only contextualizes the speaker’s self-objectification through her experiences but completely eschews the ornamentation of traditional poetic language, creating a narrative that is unromanticized. I appreciate the capitalization of certain words as well — e.g. “Coaxing you into domestic Hell/with Me” (20) — because of how that lack of romanticism, the somehow more “real” fakeness, is hyperbolized. Some of the phrases read somewhat like pop feminist buzzwords, which would lack interest to me, but the way Sutterlin exaggerates them (e.g. “He seems to think/my Guilt is Sexy” (20) is redeeming and perspicacious, almost a criticism in and of itself. The caustic feminism of the book prevails.
I Wanted to be the Knife is available for pre-order from Metatron press here.
SARA ANN SUTTERLIN is a Montreal-based writer and the editor/curator of What Kind of Trouble? a poetry anthology featuring the work of women/female-identified persons. She has been published in Girls Get Busy, The Chapess, Inconnu Mag and other places in print and around the web. Her project THE NUDE SINCERITY was published by NONPOROUS last year.