Review: The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On

Every poem in Franny Choi's The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On, has a line--or a few--where readers realize that, yes, this poem is for them. Her third collection is filled with such moments, lines that sing out, grabbing readers by the throat--or by the hand--and holding them there. Sometimes, it comes at the beginning of the poem, as in "Catastrophe Is Next to Godliness," which opens: "Lord, I confess I want the clarity of catastrophe but not the catastrophe./ Like everyone else, I want a storm I can dance in./ I want an excuse to change my life."

Others arrive at the end of the poem, a gut-punch like the lines that close "Good Morning America," a poem of nine, three-line stanzas: "Come in, last year's wreck, rent./ Grief's a heavy planet, and green./ I know better than to call/ each gravity's daughter to my softest cheek./ I know, and I know./ So what?" Each word clacks and bruises against the next, and the enjambment across stanzas forces both a forward rhythm and a pause. It is musical and discordant; it is a thing of beauty and a thing of pain.

Choi's collection is about endings of all sorts, those that happened in the past and those still to come, those that are always already happening. The poems mingle historical despair with alt-historical hope, and always there is family. Dedicated to the author's parents and grandparents, this collection rings with the memories of ancestors, and Choi (Soft Science) calls on them like muses: "O, my badly loved grandmothers,/ I kin you to me, facelessly." Present here, too, are the voices of community--friends and activists, people joining in protest and in the shared work of world-saving and world-changing, even in the face of uncertainty. Acknowledging the weight of the unknown, she writes in "How to Let Go of the World," "I don't know how to do it: hold their faces in my hands and tell them what's waiting. How to teach any of us to follow this song, into what dark." Those arresting lines fall neither at the beginning nor the end of the poem, but readers can find them and know: this poem has heft and should be shouldered, but carefully.

Lines like these--poems like these--remind readers of what is possible in poetry. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian

Shelf Talker: The World Keeps Ending, and the World Goes On is an often heavy and always beautiful collection about endings of all sorts.

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