STAYING ALIVE
Laura Sims

Ugly Duckling Presse, 2016

Laura Sims’s Staying Alive is interested in the apocalypse, but, as the title suggests, her focus is on survival, not annihilation. The collection does not linger in images of terror or destruction: “we happened on no dead/ Instead we happened on a man whose palms // Filled with berries.” In Sims’ post-apocalyptic landscape, fellow survivors proffer sustenance rather than threat.

The book’s three sections move roughly chronologically through the occurrence of apocalypse, the aftermath of apocalypse, and adaptation to a new world. In the first section, fleeing humans “gathe[r] provisions: // A clock, a slipper // And a silver spoon,” in a curious mixture of survivalism and nursery rhyme litany. In the process, the speaker’s humanity seems to become somewhat porous:

I became
One of them, leaning over the railing

And no one would help
The humans left

Not even the humans.

Who is this “them” who watches the humans from behind the safety of a railing? It isn’t clear. But if the humans of Staying Alive are not necessarily destroyed in the apocalypse, they seem to turn feral, maybe even post-human, in the second section: “We had the wild feeling of burning / A final machine”; “We had the wild feeling of harnessing / The fury of the boars.” Rather than mourning the loss of their humanity, they feel a savage excitement—even pleasure—in their (re)turn to wildness. Sims’s thesis can perhaps be summarized by the epigraph of the third section (by Rebecca Solnit): “He ceased to be lost not by returning / but by turning into something else.”

Sims’s apocalypse is an allusive patchwork drawing from a diverse list of sources (ranging from Battlestar Galactica to The Road to The War of the Worlds). In an afterword, she uses these texts to articulate the fantasy of a “fresh world, a clean slate”—one not devoid of humanity, but one wherein people adapt to a post-apocalyptic world by returning to a Little House on the Prairie or Swiss Family Robinson-esque lifestyle. She acknowledges that these literary depictions are simultaneously “pure hokum” and “hard not to long for, even if [they] never existed, and never could, in the wake of whatever may come.” In this refreshing take on apocalypse, rather than a fully-developed world, Sims’ spare, porous poems offer a scaffolding on which readers can build their own visions of an uncertain future.