"I Wonder What I Am, If I Have Never Been Good:" A Review of Sara Sutterlin's Baveuse

By Emily Sipiora

Baveuse, $11.99, Electric Cereal

Baveuse, $11.99, Electric Cereal

The title of Sara Sutterlin’s Baveuse indicates a certain cheekiness directed at authority. An indifference masquerading as what the more boring would perceive as an “attitude problem”. Sutterlin’s poems maintain a confessional quality, but rarely sounds guilty or apologetic for their raw and brash content. This effect is inimitable– no one sounds as genuinely indifferent as Sutterlin. Baveuse addresses an overbearing feeling of alienation, romantic hangups, and characteristic indifference in brief, snapshot-like poetry. It evokes a bitter and nostalgic feeling.

The poem “This Shitty American Life” succinctly captures the major thematic element of Sutterlin’s work:

            “I wonder what I am

            if I have never been Good.”

The answer, of course, is not clear, and is never explained. It’s realistic– it’s the difficult metacognitive and self-critical voice in all of our heads. Self-awareness is definitely a major aspect of Baveuse.

Sutterlin is relatable and sympathetic through the range of emotions she expresses in her work: hopelessness, indifference, and lostness. Sutterlin talks about embracing the ideal, Other-like goodness that we consistently acknowledge but fail to attain. And she recognizes the bad as well: “I love him because he is openly Bad,” she writes, “like me.”

Titles such as “Googling cute revenge ideas” and other casually violent one-liners like it embellish the work’s titular significance. It isn’t poetry about downright malevolence, but rather self-aggravating micro-aggressions tugging at you like an anxious second thought. It’s poetry about the slinking, cowardly fear of your own inherent nature.

In its recognition of all of these terrible qualities, there is an unspoken plea to the reader– an attempt to build something from this to better yourself as a person. Sutterlin is not saying that every experience had is airy and good, and that the difficult and bitter ones shape you as an individual.

More intimate narratives are presented in Baveuse between several poems. Sutterlin’s narratives exist outside of the tired paradigm of a quiet, thoughtful, or poetic woman. Lines and bits that are more colloquial and personal than Sutterlin’s normally clipping, defiant poetry reflect something much more sinister and unapologetically antagonistic present in her work:

            “We began being literal with each other,

            which of course meant we were Dying.

            We, as a collective entity, were fading,

            because Love is never literal, and the

            kiss of death is long and cold, much

            like these conversations. It always

            leaves without me (love does.

            September, 2012.”

Baveuse establishes that human nature is not innately neutral or benevolent. The belief that there is an objective good is disputed, if not rejected completely. It is in our best interest in the effort to be a wholesomely decent human being to acknowledge our selfishness and casual cruelty in ourselves, our actions, and each other.