Sarah Blake, Kanye West And The World


Sarah Blake. There is something of a Sarah and Goliath story here in how

she takes on Culture and Kulchur. You know what I mean. Just throw a name

out there on social media - who you think would make a good talk show host.

Or why you dislike a present host, or, really like a present host. Watch what

ensues. Sarah Blake is up for this. You might say she lives for it. It is the stuff

of her poetry. She is bold. She is refreshing. She keeps her perspective.

She sees the value of transcendence. It’s good to have a poet mix it up with

popular culture. We’re shown its actual complexity. We’re persuaded it is

fascinating as culture. And worth our while.


A Day at the Mall Reminds Me of America

Recently, my 14 year old sister was approached at the mall to see if she’d be interested in working

at Hollister, or Abercrombie and Fitch, or American Eagle. I can’t remember.

She’s that beautiful. And with the mall’s lights all around her—I can only imagine.

Yet on Facebook, one of her friends calls her a loser. More write, “I hate you.”

I wonder if Kanye knows that these girls are experimenting. As with rum. As with skin, all the ways to touch it.

My day at the mall begins with a Wild Cherry ICEE and an Auntie Anne’s Original Pretzel.

A craving.

I pass women who you can tell are pregnant, and I know we all might be carrying daughters.

The mall is so quiet. The outside of the Hollister looks like a tropical hut, like the teenage girls should be sweating inside.

No one’s holding doors for me yet, but they will as I take the shape of my child.

And if my child has a vicious tongue, it will take shape lapping at my breast.

                                                                   *    *   *

Sarah Blake is fearless. And she possesses grace and elegance. Certainly when it comes to Kanye West. And a kind of folk wisdom – call it common sense. I think her overarching message, the one that preempts all, is compassion, is give Kanye West a chance, don’t write him off. Notorious Kanye West who stormed the awards stage to steal the thunder from Taylor Swift and, half-heartedly, from Beck. Take note of our tender poet here Sarah Blake’s words:

… She could sing a song about it /

that makes a little sense. She could say, Don’t hate him.


All material is material for poetry. All things are the stuff of poetry. Sarah Blake

sees this clearly. After all a poet once said, a good poet should be able to write

about any one, Dick Cheney, for example. No matter how blinding the subject,

it is the poet’s job to write with a clarity of vision. And, as I say, grace:


God’s Face Over Gold


Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.

But his eyes are like man’s. His voice overflows.

So it must be his mouth, his tongue unrolled.

Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.

I think he hears prayers when nights are cold.

He can’t be a man when his heart’s a rose.

Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.

But his eyes are like man’s. His voice overflows.


The plagiarism and copyright battles of the twenty-first century are the equivalent

of the obscenity trials of the twentieth, so says Kenneth Goldsmith in response to

Sarah Blake’s work. This is one of the brilliant and provocative statements so far

in this century. Kenneth Goldsmith courted controversy himself with his Michael

Brown autopsy poem. (Perhaps Kenneth Goldsmith and Kanye West are similarly,

if not equally, misunderstood.) This prompted Sarah Blake to clarify her position

on found texts and appropriated materials. The issues aside of sampling versus

stealing someone’s song (as in the recent case of Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up),

Sarah Blake does not have to explain herself. Regarding the controversial figure

she has chosen as her subject, her impulses are well-intentioned, artful, moral and empathetic.


Seeing Kanye


Along the Juniata, the gray stones,

gray squares in the grass,

keep the hills from the road, keep them

where they are.


When we pass the stones,

like the Earth’s stitches,

I know we’re about to see a rock face

following a bend in the road,

where the strata bend like sound waves.


It’s clear God is below the Earth, not above –

his head, giant frame for the planet –

and he makes a sound that makes the Earth.


But first I thought of Kanye’s head

singing, singing, singing into that rock.


Sarah Blake. The name of one of the most revered writers in all of poetry

(Blake, William) and porn star and actress (Blake, Sarah), AKA Little

Troublemaker. Our Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West, an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West, published in 2015. She was awarded a 2013 NEA

fellowship for poetry and is Assistant Editor at Saturnalia Books. She lives

outside of Philadelphia. I like that. The operative word is Philadelphia. Poets

are commonly outsiders. More than an outsider, Sarah Blake follows the beat

of a different drum:


God Created Night and It Was Night

Let there be Kanye at the wheel of a black SUV.

Let Kanye fall asleep.

Let the SUV hit another car with another man.

Let that man’s legs break and be broken.

Let Kanye be trapped in the car.

Let there be the men that cut him out.


And there was evening and there was morning.


Let Kanye’s mother and girlfriend arrive.

Let the women take care of him.

Let Kanye see his face.

Let the doctor reconstruct his face.

Let Kanye have the breath of life.

Let Kanye lie that he had not fallen asleep.


And there was evening and there was morning.


Let Kanye tell the truth.

Let Kanye’s jaw be wired shut.

Let Kanye write a song.Let Kanye sing it through that wire.

Let the song reach over all the earth.

Let lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon Kanye.

Bring forth Kanye according to his kind.



Kanye is Horus, or another Egyptian god.

He is a merman, a centaur, the Minotaur.

And less mythical too – a zorse,

a sand sunflower, a Lonicera fly.

Kanye is half cannon, half ballet.

Half canonical, half prey.

Half my Man of Sorrows.

Half my sun.

Half my idol for son.

Half an idol of diamonds and gold.

Oh god,

Kanye is half what makes my heart.

                                                                *   *   *

We’ve all had a poster on a wall. A movie star, a rock star, an idol. For me,

it was Marcel Duchamp. A harmless enough choice. Though I’m sure, in

some quarter, someone would contest his importance. Marcel Duchamp was

not without controversy, of course. He signed a urinal and had it accepted

as art. Sometimes the real public life of the artist is predominant. I’m thinking

of the archetypal rock-star-throwing-a-television-out-a-hotel-window image.

The scuffles with reality. At times, that’s all we remember. You know what

I’m saying, Pete Doherty? Can you name his band? Well, it was two bands,

good bands, too, that made good music. The behavior is legendary, maybe

more alleged. Then, there is the exceptional. Drink all you want, Russell

Crowe, A Beautiful Mind and The Insider are memorable. They are you.

Isn’t this what Mrs. Blake is saying, have we forgotten Kanye West’s music?

Isn’t that how we should judge artists? Are we looking at him in light of

his masterpieces, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, for instance? They

are fair questions. More than fair. They are human, decent, tender questions.


The test of a poet is what else can they do, how do they follow themselves.

For Sarah Blake it is the appearance of a long, a daringly long sequence of

poems. Who would have imagined that next up for her would be the nature

poem, in the manner of Gary Snyder, Carolyn Forche and Maxine Kumin.

The poems of In a Wood, With Clearings, It’s Spring are outdoors poems

and meditations. Here is a selection from sections 20-49. They are breathtaking:

from In a Wood, with Clearings, It’s Spring


You know of a good spot to watch the sunset. Once it’s dark, it’s only a 10-minute walk back to the tarp.

So you get yourself there. You can see pretty far to the west. The sun is going to go down over a mountain. Another mountain.

It’s not the same as watching it set over a lake — the reflection rippling up like everything’s laughing — but it should be beautiful.

You can also see you have a good 20 minutes before the sky really starts to do its thing. You decide to carve your initials into a tree.

You’ve been carrying around a spoon you found in the bear bag, and you find a nice flat rock.

First you scoop the bark off in chunks. Then you clear the area completely by scraping the spoon over it, again and again. It’s not a bad sound like some scraping.

Now you put the end of the spoon against the trunk, knock the other end with the rock, and you make a small mark.

You make a lot of small marks. You turn around and the sky is bright pink.

You’re glad the sun is going to spend time every day shining on you. This version of you that will outlast your body.

If you knew how to better represent yourself than with two crap carved letters, well Jesus, you would do that.


You’ve seen sunsets. This one was like those. Pink, purple, yellow, orange. Then all of a sudden the sky is dark blue. Then all of a sudden there are stars.

You know they’re far. You think of that distance in terms of time. You can’t help yourself.

You know in one way you will live a number of years. In another way you live the distance the Earth traveled during that time. Which is another number of years.

And if you are emitting any light, as you often hope you are (yes, you know you are a fool), then that light travels out another distance, another length of time.

You are living for centuries. You are living forever.

As you turn to leave, you say, Goodnight. You open your mouth. Close your mouth. You’re constantly eating light.


When clouds cover the sky then is it only one cloud? Cloudscape. It’s such a dark gray. Like slate and tar. But all it means is that it’s full of water.

Do all clear things turn dark when piled on top of each other? If you covered yourself in enough rain, would you get dark enough to hide in a fire’s smoke?

You just described drowning. All the smoky bodies at the bottoms of the lakes and seas. Don’t you understand light, light eater?

At least the bear won’t roam around today. She’s in a cave with her snout under her paw.

And the bird spirit is thrilled it’s so dark because she can practice her new skill. Soon she’ll be able to make her outline appear and you won’t be able to question if you see her.

You run your left hand down your right arm. The rain sloughs off.


Sarah Blake, our 21st Century Wordsworth. That’s something. That’s huge.


And, hey, I made it through this piece without Kanye West rushing in and

telling me to write about Beyoncé.


Poems copyright © 2015 by Sarah Blake. Reprinted with permission of the author

and Wesleyan University Press.

Leonard Gontarek is the author of five books of poems, including, Déjà Vu Diner and He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Verse, Poetry Northwest and The Best American Poetry, among others. He is host of the Green Line Café Reading and Interview Series and conducts poetry workshops throughout the Philadelphia area.