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Alive At The End Of The World

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Poetry (2022)
Pierced by grief and charged with history, this new poetry collection from the award-winning author of Prelude to Bruise and How We Fight for Our Lives confronts our everyday apocalypses.

In haunted poems glinting with laughter, Saeed Jones explores the public and private betrayals of life as we know it. With verve, wit, and elegant craft, Jones strips away American artifice in order to reveal the intimate grief of a mourning son and the collective grief bearing down on all of us. 

Drawing from memoir, fiction, and persona, Jones confronts the everyday perils of white supremacy with a finely tuned poetic ear, identifying moments that seem routine even as they open chasms of hurt. Viewing himself as an unreliable narrator, Jones looks outward to understand what’s within, bringing forth cultural icons like Little Richard, Paul Mooney, Aretha Franklin and Diahann Carroll to illuminate how long and how perilously we’ve been living on top of fault lines. As these poems seek ways to love and survive through America’s existential threats, Jones ushers his readers toward the realization that the end of the world is already here—and the apocalypse is a state of being.

104 pages, Paperback

First published September 13, 2022

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About the author

Saeed Jones

5 books1,277 followers
Saeed Jones is the author of the memoir How We Fight for Our Lives, winner of the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction, the 2020 Stonewall Book Award/Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award, and a 2020 Lambda Literary Award. He is also the author of the poetry collection Prelude to Bruise, winner of the 2015 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry and the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award. The poetry collection was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as awards from Lambda Literary and the Publishing Triangle in 2015. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 293 reviews
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
964 reviews6,815 followers
June 6, 2023
I’ve made a home out of how much I miss you
and there’s no one here to tell me I should leave

History pretends to forget itself,’ writes Saeed Jones in his piercing new collection Alive at the End of the World, offering a deep investigation into the many ways we shrug off the history of horrors around us. Be in erasure for convenience or in order to keep moving forward, we disremember the past for the sake of the future and Jones would like us to sit in these moments awhile to learn, remember, and pay tribute. Though memory is also stuffed with grief from tragedy and loss of loved ones. With a charming wit, humor and keen eye for emotion, Alive at the End of the World is an instant poetic success that weds the struggle of the past and present through poems that are deeply personal and poems that pay respect to key Black figures of the arts like Aretha Franklin, Toni Morrison and Little Richard. This is a collection that will shake you alive and ask you to look around at the world and appreciate that you are still here, alive, at what might often seem the end of the world.

The end of the world is a boy who feels all the pain we give him but never bruises, never has a history to show for who happened to him.

I would argue that the end of the world is more of a state of being than a linear event that begins and ends and you can see the edges of it,’ Jones said in conversation with Columbus Monthly, and in keeping with this idea the collection offers multiple ‘ends of the world’. In one, the End of the World is an abusive father who’s children ‘already daydream about the wood grain of his coffin.’ In another the End of the World is a queer nightclub with ‘Drag queens with machetes and rhinestoned / machine guns’ keeping guard while pastors lurk outside and ‘vow / that if they ever got inside, they’d burn it all down.’ Dread and the threat of violence is always slinking in the shadows of these poems, ready to strike and h orrific violence happens in the news so frequently it has become ‘just another midday massacre / in America’ he writes in the first of the series of poems titled Alive at the End of the World:

The end of the world was mistaken
for just another midday massacre
in America. Brain matter and broken
glass, blurred boot prints in pools
of blood. We dialed the newly dead
but they wouldn't answer. We texted.
begging them to call us back, but
the newly dead don't know how to
read. 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. With time, the white boys
with guns will become wounds we won't
quite remember enduring. "How did you
get that scar on your shoulder?" "Oh,
a boy I barely knew was sad once."

This poem succinctly encapsulates so much of the modern horrors of living, such as random violence, mass shootings and white supremacy, and ends with the chilling notion that the catastrophes have become so common as to be shrugged out of memory. ‘History is a gun,’ he writes later in Heritage, ‘and every bullet in its chamber want you / to forget’ and Jones is here to remind us to remember.

The end of the world is a boy who doesn’t need to be a real boy to grieve like one.

The book is divided into four sections, each with another end of the world poem as well as the another chapter in Jone’s prose piece Saeed, or The Other One. This multi-piece work is a surreal tale in which Jone’s writes ‘You’ve got it all wrong. My pain needs me,’ only to be confronted by a physical manifestation of his pain as a second Jones, another being to observe and confront. This recalls some of the passages in his memoir about grief and processing pain through the art of writing, to create ‘a call and response inside the church of us,’ by placing your pain outside yourself. ‘I believed that I could control any story I told,’ he says in How We Fight For Our Lives, ‘if something happened, I could write about it, own it, resolve it. Simple. You could afford to be interesting, if you could pin everything to the page afterward.’ And there is much to process in these poems.

You died and a decade passed, the: one morning
everyone started dying.

Grief is a common thread running through the poems, especially over the loss of his mother. One aspect of this collection that really drives it into your heart though is the way Jones can balance the heavy grief with moment of humor, even when discussing sad topics, as in The Dead Dozens:

Your grief is so heavy,
when we lowered the coffin
all the pallbearers fell in too…

You love your mama so much,
Freud came back from the dead
just to study your sorry ass…

The collection becomes a loving tribute to his mother and a struggle with dealing with the grief of her loss and trying to find self-actualization amidst it all. In Saeed, How Dare You Make Your Mother into a Prelude he states that he ‘somehow has to live on / as your last sentence / uncompleted,’ acknowledging that living on involves being both an expression of family before you (‘shrouded in enough mother echo’) and an individual self. Always wondering ‘who I would become after the sun set / on my last few minutes as your son.

Though this is difficult as a Black, queer man in America. ‘In this America, how can I call myself a good son and wish my mother, a Black woman, was still here,’ he asks, and the threats against being Black in America abound through this collection. There is the violence, the microaggressions and daily oppression, or even the awkwardness of being the one Black student in a classroom when the subject of slavery comes up. The poem After the School Board Meeting was inspired in part by the book The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead and addresses about a real school built on top a Black cemetery Jones tells us in the Notes section following the collection (which is quite robust and just as enjoyable as the poems to be honest), though also is intended to address the gatekeeping implied in the pushbacks across the US about Critical Race Theory:

Somewhere in suburbia, a man-
made creek runs black with junk
we choked on then spat out, tin-can
curses & cracked bones from broken
homes we broke down, paved over
& built our shiny, short-lived lives on.
All the foxes & coyotes have ghosted
our gated, security-guarded imitations
of strite. Our dreams gentrity your night-
mares, & rumor has it, our high school
was built on a Black cemetery. Boo-fucking-hoo.
We pulled ourselves up by your bootstraps,
fucked missionary under a nuclear moon
to get here, and what we've got starts to rol
as soon as we get it. So, I say: Good riddance,
name of the game, "America" is American
for "wreck & repeat." This song isn't comfort;
It's just to help me sleep. "At least, this misery
is mine" I sing in my loaned & lonely dark,
& in the poplar tree outside my window,
a mockingbird sings my song back to me.

The poems also take a deep dive through music history and Black performers to show a world in which Black excellence becomes commodified, owned and appropriated by wealthy white people, quipping ‘I’m Lorne Michaels, I’m the white man who decides whats funny.’ These become wonderful tributes to amazing artists, though it is also heartwrenching . ‘I don’t believe in greatness anymore,’ Jones writes in Song for the Status Quo, 'because glory isn't possible in an America where the cover of a cover of a song that ruined a Black woman’s life can reach me through the radio or hope or a reason…’ Whew.

Saeed Jones knocks it out here and Alive at the End of the World is a stunning collection of poems that will move you, make you think and even make you laugh. If it really is the end of the world, and Timothee Chalamet says he can smell it in the air, than this would be a good book to cozy up with and watch it all go down.


Alive at the End of the World

I hear the sirens and run
a hand over my silhouette,
surprised not to find bullet
wounds, burns, or history,

but now, ambered under
this streetlight, he pulls me in
for a kiss again and I decide,
briefly, to let the world kill

itself however it chooses: yes,
I hear the sirens and I am their
scream but tonight, I will moan
a future into my man's mouth.
Profile Image for Traci Thomas.
590 reviews10.5k followers
August 12, 2022
Loved this. Usually I feel insecure as I read poems. Not this collection. I felt locked in. Grief. Current events. Black legends. It’s all here. Also the notes at the end added even more to this collection.
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,065 reviews1,903 followers
December 26, 2022
Winner for best cover of 2022? I really like it.

This is a book of poetry by Saeed Jones, he is a Black and gay American.

He deals mainly with race in this book. It's mainly about navigating the United States as a Black man, being gay is not as focused on. It's really only mentioned in passing. Also, his mother is dead and her death obviously impacted him in a big way. A lot of poems talk about his mother and his struggle to adapt to life without her.

The end of the world was mistaken
for just another midday massacre
in America. Brain matter and broken
glass, blurred boot prints in pools
of blood. We dialed the newly dead
but they wouldn't answer. We texted,
begging them to call us back, but
the newly dead don't know how to
read. 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. With time, the white boys
with guns will become wounds we won't
quite remember enduring. "How did you
get that scar on your shoulder?" "Oh,
a boy I barely knew was sad once."

October, 2019 - Oxford, Mississippi

The color of a memory is the difference
between haunted and hunted. In Mississippi,
red white and blue don't mean "remember
this is America." They mean "history is a gun
and every bullet in its chamber wants you
to forget." They mean "we tried our best
not to be America and failed and now we keep
forgetting to forget and anyway, who did you
vote for? No need to ask us. You already know."
They mean the white man in the White House
who tweeted this morning that he's being lynched.
Outside my hotel - no, I'm not from around here -
on the street corner, there is a plaque that tells me
where I can find the body of the town's first white
settler. But it's almost sundown and I've been told
darkness in Mississippi is not a metaphor so I chase
the shadows back into the hotel. At the bar, I beg
the bartender to make me a stronger drink. He tries
and he fails. I'm scared and Black and mostly sober
at the hotel bar and reading an essay about lynching
when some Ole Miss frat boys explode into the room,
cheering in a dead language, and my heart doesn't
even wait for me to get the check. My heart is already
gone. My heart is cowering in the hallway in front
of my hotel room because I have the key and I just
now got the check and I keep forgetting to forget
that the America I was born in will not be
the America in which I die.

A good thing also about this poetry collection is that at the end of the book Jones includes backgrounds for all the poems. What they were inspired by. What he was thinking about when he wrote them. Etc.

TL;DR Interesting book of poetry. Jones makes some good points and he crafts some good poetry and ideas. I would recommend it if you are interested in a modern book of poetry revolving around Black American life.
Profile Image for cameron.
146 reviews744 followers
November 17, 2022
i’m so grateful that i could see him read from and discuss this collection. this is easily one of my new favorites that i know i will go back to repeatedly. poems on Blackness, queerness and grief, collective and personal.
Profile Image for Gerhard.
1,076 reviews549 followers
December 3, 2022
Alive at the End of the World

The End of the World was a nightclub.
Drag queens with machetes and rhinestoned

machine guns guarded the red and impassable
door on Friday nights. Just a look at the crowd,

all dressed up and swaying outside, made people
want to yell the truth about themselves to anyone

Review to follow.
Profile Image for mwana .
381 reviews286 followers
Want to read
October 28, 2022
Did the Photoshop subscription run out when this cover was due because what is that
Profile Image for Alan.
1,121 reviews111 followers
May 11, 2023
Rec. by: David
Rec. for: Fellow survivors of the ongoing apocalypse

All we have are words.

What better way to follow up on Chuck Wendig's big ol' end-of-the-world novel Wayward, than with a slim volume of poems under a similarly-apocalyptic title? And that cover—what a science-fictional image! It reminded me of the pastoral surrealism in Simon Stålenhag's hyperrealistic paintings, but it's actually artwork by artist and photojournalist Lola Flash.

The poems in Saeed Jones' Alive at the End of the World do sometimes have science-fictional aspects, post-apocalyptic grace notes, but they are grounded in the present—and the past—in memories of his mother and in his experience as a Black man in America. When, for example, Jones says,
Let the pale reporters and their pointed questions about being
"the first and only" hang from trees like the warnings they are.
—"Diahann Carroll Takes a Bath at the Beverly Hills Hotel," p.37
Even a dumb white guy knows he's not talking about fruit.

Saeed Jones (whom you may have seen on the late BuzzFeed News) doesn't use the wrong words. I appreciated subtleties, like the comma at the end of "That's Not Snow, It's Ash" (p.7). And the final section of "If You Had an Off Button, I'd Name You 'Off'" (Part V, p.12) could (did) make a grown man weep.

This I feel too, as I enter my sixth decade upon this Earth:
I grieve the bodies I thought beneath me and the body I became.
—"Grief #346," p.57

Are words all we have?

I know that as a white man the apparatus of the state would be mine to call upon—I would never shoot someone, but I might well have someone shot. Accidentally, even, if I use the wrong words.

I cannot pretend to rival Jones, but his poems did inspire me to pale imitation. I hope these aren't the wrong words:

I sit here at the intersection of White Street and Bland Avenue, waiting for the Stop sign to change,
When Mr. Jones rolls by in a parked car (get your stories straight, man!),
Hanging something dark and dangerous out the window:
"You look hungry. Why not eat these words?"
So of course I had to.
It was simple self-defense.

Saeed Jones doesn't use the wrong words. It bears repeating, as Jones himself repeats the title "Alive at the End of the World" for several different poems within Alive at the End of the World.

Words are all we have.

I can't be Black with Jones. I can't be queer alongside him either. But I can be with him.

Jones ends this volume with some words about his poems, many of which turn out to be nonfictional. Which is no surprise—I think we're all coming to know what it's like to be alive at the end of the world.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books159k followers
September 27, 2022
Saeed Jones is a remarkable writer and his latest poetry collection, Alive At the End of the World, reflects a poet creating the best work of his career. This is an outstanding body of work. These poems reckon with grief, the kind of grief that lingers and subsumes a person no matter how hard they try to escape it. There are so many wonderful lines throughout the collection. The poems take a range of forms and it's wonderful to see the formal versatility, so many different ways of expressing the difficult truths of this work. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Profile Image for vanessa.
1,012 reviews150 followers
November 27, 2022
Ooof, I have missed Saeed Jones every day since I read the last page of How We Fight For Our Lives and slowly closed the book with tears falling down my face. My favorites in this collection were: A Song for the Status Quo; Saeed, How Dare You Make Your Mother into a Prelude; Heritage; "Sorry as in Pathetic"; Date Night; The Essential American Worker; A Spell to Banish Grief; and every Saeed: or The Other One addition. Jones's focus on grief is the cornerstone of this memoir (he interrogates himself, answering a reader's question: "Do you think you need your pain in order to write?") and ultimately to me, he settles on: this is what he wants to write for himself ("I don't want to go out there for them"). Jones's writing is honest, raw. Whenever he writes about his mother I feel my throat and chest tighten. I would love for him to write more memoir-like nonfiction.
Profile Image for ReadBecca.
831 reviews85 followers
December 17, 2022
I'm not a huge poetry reader, but completely connected with this collection, so I think it's very accessible if you also don't pick up much poetry. Through poetry and flash fiction Jones explores surviving through challenges from race and class and sexuality and loss. I also love the elements this incorporated from pop culture and subtly speculative to communicate to the reader. I'm not sure from a form perspective I got it, but there is an aspect of challenging the reader I think, where line breaks are exclusively unnatural, uncomfortable.
Profile Image for lily.
666 reviews25 followers
November 19, 2022
saeed jones never misses. these poems were raw and beautiful and emotional. i reread them while i was reading them because i just needed to feel them again.
Profile Image for IE.
174 reviews16 followers
September 29, 2022
Alive at the End of the World thinks through various states of being (black, queer, orphan) during the supposed end of the world. The paradoxical nature of this premise is not lost on Jones, who looks at the end of the world not as apocalyptic (per se), but more along the lines of the world having always been witness to various forms of death. Consider the following lines from one of the eponymous poems:

The End of the World loved us
like a father who bagged about the broken

roof he kept overhead whenever we'd complain
about the night air watching us sleep,

or whenever we'd wince at this reach

This expansive and malleable definition also allows Jones to focus on something a bit more urgent than impending doom: Grief. Here, it is seen as the intersection of living and apocalypse, a by-product of surviving one’s own death, but not quite one’s loved ones (such as one’s mother). The Dead Dozens’ starting lines (also noted by D.A. Powell in his introduction) are exemplary:

Your grief is so heavy,
when we lowered the coffin,
all the pallbearers fell in too.

Jones skillfully uses this dark humor to fling the poems, to make orphanhood as complex and vivid and gut-wrenching as Collins’ Autopsy, and even to roll-call a bunch of dead black folks (while staying very much on theme): Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Maya Angelou, Little Richard, Diahann Caroll, and Aretha Franklin, to name a few.

Impressive collection. Looking forward to reading Prelude to Bruise .
Profile Image for Abani.
96 reviews27 followers
October 12, 2022
Finally, 1/few of the good books in contemporary poetry! Some shattered me, some left me unable to speak. What is it about grief that we can only feel so much yet not be able to say how we feel?
Profile Image for Renee Morales.
57 reviews
January 15, 2023
not for me. was really bored and unmoved? i don’t know, i hate being overly critical especially when the content of the poem is personal but they read almost generic. i felt like anyone could be writing these poems and i struggled to find saeed’s voice and distinctiveness while reading. i also felt like the references were only made for the sake of it? not because there was any need or relevance to his work. a prime example of this was “At 84 Years Old, Toni Morrison Wonders If She’s Depressed” just kinda felt random idk?? like idk

again just not for me
Profile Image for Sally L..
49 reviews
January 20, 2023
Stars 4/5
Probably the most digestible poetry I've ever read, but still full of really beautiful prose. It was powerful and straight to the point but also full of satire and clever metaphors. A lot of the subject matter was pretty devastating, a little difficult to read but very important.
And my favourite poem was probably 'Saeed, or The Other One IV', the concept of the question carrying throughout most of the collection to be finally concluded with this beautiful metaphor about coming out of the woods - literally the perfect ending.
Profile Image for Paulette.
435 reviews2 followers
January 1, 2023
Damn, this really cut me deep. Grief is such a funny thing.
Profile Image for Isla McKetta.
Author 6 books51 followers
April 10, 2023
I had the pleasure of hearing Jones read a few of these poems at AWP in Seattle which meant his voice was in my head for all of this book (and I loved it even while I wept).
Profile Image for dmerey.
38 reviews
August 30, 2023
The book tackles with the problems of being a gay and black person, and the grief that comes along. Richard Siken combined with what I imagine Toni Morrison's writing to be, a solid 4/5.
104 reviews1 follower
November 19, 2022
Stunning. Lines that burrow under your skin or need to be smuggled into a pocket to take home after the show. “Lifetimes are just costume jewelry”, “I wonder if I’m the song she hums as she waits for the light to change”, I’ve made a home out of how much I miss you”. If you need to cry after loss, this book will make it happen and make you feel in community with others grieving.
28 reviews2 followers
February 14, 2023
pretty confident i don't know how to read poetry, but still pretty confident this was incredible.

Profile Image for Crystal.
477 reviews162 followers
March 20, 2023

I’m most dangerous when I’m hungry. I’m most hungry

when I’m hurting. Seems like I’m always hurting. Nothing
but teeth. Nothing but the same words calling out to me

in my sleep. Grief asking its ghosts not to leave. Please.
It’s not up to me when I get to stop crying. Or hurting.

Or holding memories in my mouth, gentle as bees
I promised not to eat, but oh, the hurt is so sweet.

(from “Date Night”)

But silence has never stopped me from praying.
Alive, how many nights did I spend knelt between
the knees of gods and men begging for rain, rent,
and reasons to remain?

(from “A Memory”)

A few months and many deaths ago, I asked someone “how are you doing” and felt, in the way her eyes fell, how I had failed her before I had even reached the end of my question. I’ve hurt many people but it’s the unintended wounds I claim now as children. They stand beside my bed in the dark each night, a row of injuries asking me to wake up because they can’t sleep. It’s a bright June morning now and I have the windows open to let the quiet out, and I’m making breakfast for my babies. Her eyes are still falling through the air of me.

Profile Image for Kailin.
559 reviews
November 5, 2022
« America teaches you that there are so many ways to die in America »
Profile Image for Annagrace.
403 reviews13 followers
October 3, 2022
I was lucky enough to hear Saeed Jones read from this, his latest collection, at Reed College this summer, and I’m familiar with a few of its pieces previously published in The New Yorker and elsewhere, but the experience of reading Alive At The End Of The World, cover to liner notes, was so profound that I had to do it again (and again) in order to catch my breath. In order to even begin to comprehend the skill and depth of what he has created here. Alive… is an accumulation of sorrow and memory, of history haunting the present, brilliantly written in language lyrical, urgent, surprising, precise. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is the most powerful and beautiful book of poetry I’ve read in years.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 293 reviews

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