paper • 132 pages • 17.95
ISBN: 978-1-954245-92-1
eISBN: 978-1-954245-93-8
March 2024 • Poetry

How to Abandon Ship

Sasha West

In How to Abandon Ship, Sasha West harnesses poetry as a vessel to ferry the inconceivable, to wreck upon the shores of what we’ve known thus far. Assessing the accelerating emergencies of climate change amid the West’s self-cannibalizing capitalism, the speaker of these poems wrestles with the state of the world and its compounding catastrophes as a new parent. That fierce love becomes her grappling hook into the glut of information and epochal view of time and space we must scale to leave our children a habitable, equitable planet. To approach a perspective too vast for the individual mind, West cycles through personae which collectively metabolize the strands of the past, and the foundational myths of Western civilization, that constructed this looming future. West speaks as a contemporary mother and an ancient proxy, the unheeded Greek oracle Cassandra; gives voice to fossil fuels; and imagines grown children, real and mythological, surviving beyond a world our generation preemptively mourns. “I have taken / my voice past the threshold, past / the lintel,” Cassandra addresses readers and, more broadly, a paralyzed and apathetic public. “I am speaking to you now from / inside the wildfire while it burns the hair / from my body: I don’t expect you will listen.” But while making space for climate grief, holding our faces up to the ever-expanding sinkhole of earthly loss, West liberates us unto joy, enjoining us to remake the narratives that drive our culture, our consumption, and our relationship to the non-human world. Cassandra’s daughter rides the ship as it sinks, declaring, “I am being shaped / into something new, waiting, / listening to birds give out song / before / the songs give out.” And Cassandra’s granddaughter endures to remind us that, when the sails buckle, we need not drown if we choose to swim. “When you were still alive and apt to get weepy over what you saw as rubbled landscapes, I was impatient. Only a tourist fetishizes the ground where tragedy occurred…. What needs to be done, we do. We act in tiny increments.” These splinters compose the timeless story of humanity: we love each other because we cannot help it; we fail, and fail repeatedly; we go on.


Having told a distance of weather Having clothed
each year my body a little less Having red
birds disappear from my yard a red cough burrow
to the bottom of my lungs Having a camera
Having a climate Having my face on the screen
in your hands Having a future made of what goods
would evolve to Having dehydrated ice cream Having flight
Having praised disposable tampons or lunchboxes or tv
dinners My appetites launched a thousand shipping
containers Having watched yellow hurricanes spin
behind the newscasters Having paid more for tomatoes
more for bread Having at night the glow from
a distant fire Having a mushroom cloud in my head
as a measure of panic Having the replay button Having the replay
Having sadness I wished rid of in packages Having her
body in my arms as a kind of promise Having come
to the understanding more in sorrow than in anger
Having renounced all worldly goods Having come
to you-head bowed-begging

Praise from Tomás Q. Morín
Praise from Erika Meitner
Praise from Carrie Fountain

In How to Abandon Ship, Sasha West emerges like a modern Cassandra, one who doesn’t simply tell us of what is to come, but one who teaches us, “To bite. To keen. To howl.” West is an oracle whose words pop, hiss, and blaze. This terrific book has left me changed.

How to Abandon Ship is equal parts prophetic and apocalyptic, and Sasha West doesn’t shy away from the exigencies of the world: its floods and fires and earthquakes, its wars and disease and mass graves, its politics and tragedies and technology where “software reminded us / to have memories.” “I love: my country: it can break me,” writes West, and these powerful poems limn the urgency of our present moment, as well as the tenderness and terror of new motherhood when the speaker becomes “permeable to the world.” How to Abandon Ship is a haunting book of grief and warning, but also one of caregiving and survival. West’s poems ultimately offer a blueprint for meeting disaster head-on-with fierce love, acts of service, and the power of imagination.

The poems in Sasha West’s How to Abandon Ship describe the anguish and disorientation of existing on a planet put in jeopardy by our very existence. Here we encounter a poet who has “spent a life sharpening the blade of [her] / imagination” slicing through the layered voices of greed, complicity, and blind faith that have left us with a world in peril and the painful task of telling our children the truth about it. Embodying the voice of a modern-day Cassandra, West reveals a fundamental truth of our time: how a warning can be a blessing, but only if we’re willing to receive it.