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Saeed Jones confronts the end of the world in new poems

Coffee House Press

When Saeed Jones was working on his new book of poems during the pandemic's lockdown phase, he learned something about grief — it doesn't end, it just changes with time.

The book is called Alive at the End of the World. The poet was nearing the 10-year anniversary of his mother's passing, and as he was working through his own loss, he was also surrounded by a collective experience of it.

"My reckoning with those personal feelings kind of keyed me into what we're kind of going through in a really a systemic way," Jones says.

As he points to climate disaster, gun violence, and America's broader systemic failures — he also writes about a new relationship and falling in love.

He says the reader sees him on the page asking: "Am I allowed to love? Can we do this right now? Like, is this an appropriate time?"

Consider this excerpt from one of the book's four title poems —

I hear the sirens and I am their
scream but tonight, I will moan
a future into my man's mouth.

The poet adds that these questions about love come from an American culture too invested in just "moving on."

"I think Americans, American culture, we're not good at acknowledging grief and loss," he says.

Because for Jones, the end of the world is not a one time event. "Sorry, it's not going to be like the movie Deep Impact or Armageddon where there's just like one dramatic event and we all come together," he says. "No, this is ... it is a new era, I think, actually, of civilization. We're entering a lot of collapse and destabilization."

In the title poem, Jones wonders what it means to love and create amidst this:

In America, a gathering of people
is called target practice or a funeral,
depending on who lives long enough
to define the terms. But for now,
we are alive at the end of the world,
shell shocked by headlines and alarm
clocks, burning through what little love
we have left.

"So you see, even as there's just total peril and calamity on the page with these poems, there are still human beings who have to go about the business of making sense of their lives," he says.

And through his poems, Jones reminds us that even though it often feels like the end of the world — we are alive, and we are here.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeevika Verma joined NPR's Morning Edition and Up First as a producer in February 2020. During her time there, she's produced a variety of stories ranging from Afghanistan peace talks, COVID surges in India and local & state elections. Verma also contributes to arts and poetry coverage for NPR's culture desk, and is always trying to get more poets on air. She leads the Morning Edition diversity council and works on DEI efforts across the network to help NPR live up to its mission.

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