For me, Mare Heron Hake’s SurvivalEye is a necessary book in this time of pain and uncertainty. There is a lot going on in Hake’s debut collection. She takes a close look at what is deadly and difficult in the world, but her poetry is filled with characteristics I personally admire above all else, hope and courage. There are any number of poets that show me how to proceed through the kind of chaos we face, Yusef Komunyakaa, Joy Harjo, Paul Kareem Tayyar, and Marge Piercy, and what I love about Hake is that she continues the ideals of these great writers and applies them to the problems of now. As I move with anxiety through my in-person teaching and worry about the health of myself, my family, and my students, Hake reminds me of how to do so with grace. She does it with hope and resilience and her collection gives us a model for courage.
Hake’s poetry is often an antidote for despair. Her prose poem “your ember” discusses finding resilience in the passions that live in all of us. It tells to have faith in that passion, in her words that “ember,” “it isn’t nothing but something here tangled in your own roots, down beyond their clawed reach, this smallest tip of heat that you can feel, a burning, an ember to keep you warm but could also light the rest of you on fire” (55). Here and throughout the collection, Hake acknowledges that those parts of us that are often demeaned or ignored by us and others are part of who we are and a part of our power. Simply moving and doing often gives us a way forward. She also discusses this same idea in “BossLady” where she writes, “I am the belief no one else encouraged” (9). This looking inward to find strength that gives us hope is repeated again and again, and she shows us that having faith in ourselves is the way to move forward. We should not look to others for this.
If she is calling to us for hope in this time when we are inclining toward despair, she is also calling to us for resilience. In the titular poem, she writes of how a crow she witnesses survives.
thing of this crow was committed to
the task — feet in water, one eye
going down, a thing tongued tool
of a beak parallel to the inch of
wet, a neck bent so low for a
moment, and necessary, over
and over again, day after
The crow becomes emblematic of the resilience that she is calling for. To live, it must drink, and to drink it must put itself in a vulnerable position, and this is terrifying, but the narrator watching the crow starts to understand and relate to it. Like the crow, she is vulnerable, and life is dangerous, but the only way forward is to keep going, day after day.
The world needs more collections that affirm hope and resilience, and I am grateful to Hake for having given us this one. Anything that reminds us that there is a better world possible is to be lauded. This is a book that shows us the way.
John Brantingham 1st September 2021