Saeed Jones faces the end of the world in ‘Alive at the End of The World’ : NPR


When Saeed Jones was working on his new collection of poems during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, he learned something about grief – it doesn’t stop, it just changes over time.

The book is called Living at the end of the world. The poet was approaching the 10th anniversary of his mother’s death, and as he worked through his own loss, he was also surrounded by a collective experience of it.

“My calculus with these personal feelings kind of made me aware of what we’re going through in a really systemic way,” Jones said.

As he points to climate catastrophe, gun violence, and America’s larger systemic failures, he also writes about a new relationship and falling in love.

Said Jones
Said Jones

He says the reader sees him on the page asking, “Am I allowed to love? Can we do it now? Like, is this an appropriate time?”

Consider this excerpt from one of the four poems in the title of the book –

I hear the sirens and I’m their
scream but tonight I’m gonna moan
a future in the mouth of my man.

The poet adds that these questions about love come from an American culture that is too invested in the simple “moving on to something else”.

“I think Americans, American culture, we’re not good at acknowledging grief and loss,” he says.

Because for Jones, the end of the world is not a one-time event. “Sorry, it won’t be like the movie Deep Impact or Armageddon where there’s just a dramatic event and we all come together,” he says. “No, it’s…it’s a new era, I think, actually, of civilization. We’re going into a lot of collapse and destabilization.”

In the title poem, Jones wonders what it means to love and create in the midst of this:

In America, a gathering of people
is called shooting practice or a funeral,
depending on who lives long enough
to define terms. But for now,
we are alive at the end of the world,
shell shocked by headlines and alarm
clocks, burning through this little love
We left.

“So you see, even though there is only utter peril and calamity on the page with these poems, there are still human beings who have to deal with making sense of their lives,” he said.

And through his poems, Jones reminds us that although it often feels like the end of the world, we are alive and we are here.


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