Book Review: I hope this finds you well by Kate Baer

I hope this finds you well – Kate Baer (Harper Perennial, 2021)

I reviewed Kate Baer’s first book of poetry at the beginning of this year (What Kind of Woman) and I’m pretty impressed that one year after that collection came out, she already has a new one. Like What Kind of Woman, this is a small book with short, punchy poems. This is, however, a collection of erasure poems. In her Author’s Note at the beginning of the book. Baer explains that her long presence on the internet has meant that she’s received a wide variety of comments, both negative and positive. Then one day, she began to make poems out of these comments. She does so by erasing words and leaving some behind, creating brief but powerful messages, often quite different than where they started.

The book is formatted with the original comment/email/article/speech on the left hand side and the new poem on the right hand side of each page. The originals come from instagram comments, emails, advertisements, and even Donald Trump’s infamous audio recording where he brags about grabbing women without their consent. As a whole, the poems are extremely timely, dealing often with the events of the past year such as the Capitol riot and police brutality. Several poems focus on the ways women’s bodies are critiqued and the expectations laid on them.

I follow Baer on social media so I’d seen some of her erasure poems shared there (though most of the poems here are new) and appreciated her ability to take comments that are intimately unkind and turn them into something beautiful. I admire her commitment to appreciating her own body and the beauty around her, even as others insist she should not.

14 thoughts on “Book Review: I hope this finds you well by Kate Baer”

  1. Oh, I’ve heard of her! I didn’t realize the book is set up so that you can see the original message, though. Some authors pound out books super fast, and I have no idea where that mental excitement comes from. Even though I did three degrees in creative writing, these days sitting down to write feels like punishment. Part of the reason I love ASL is because it’s so creative. You never just say “tree,” you gotta describe that tree, which often involves lots of facial expressions.

    1. Following her on social media I get the sense that these poems are written quite quickly. They sort of spring out of the original message and so the words are there or they are not. It works well to see the original and the new side by side and it draws attention to the way words can have so many different meanings.

      When there are ASL translators on the news or at events, I always like watching them because they’re so expressive!

    2. Just last night I saw a clip of a woman interpreting. She’s signing away, and then suddenly the person speaking collapses. I’m not sure if the interpreter was on autopilot or what, but she signed this person passing out. The internet thought it was really funny (the signing, not the passing out), but other folks noted that the signing may have been done for deaf-blind people.

    3. Oh my goodness, that would be rather funny to witness. I can imagine being on autopilot like that or not quite sure if it was part of what the speaker meant to do. Okay, forgive my ignorance but how would a deaf-blind person watch TV? Is there something that aids them and that would translate the sign language for them (presuming they can’t see it on screen)?

    4. I actually don’t know the answer to your question, but this is the reasoning that loads of people gave. I don’t have any experience with deaf-blind culture, and only a TINY bit of the assistive technology.

    5. That question led me to the internet where I learned that there is an assistive technology that can translate what happens on TV into Braille for a deaf-blind person to read. I guess it’s pretty new though so not widely available. Pretty cool though and in that case an interpreter signing that someone has passed out would be helpful.

  2. Ah this is very helpful, I had no idea that’s what those poems were called – erasure poems! I’ve been seeing them everywhere, typically women reformatting these hateful messages they get on the internet, which sadly seem too common these days.

    1. I think in university we would have called these “found poems” but Baer calls them erasure poems and that seems more precise for what she’s doing. It is sad that hate messages are so common that an art form has grown out of them but I also love the empowerment that these show, of taking back the narrative.

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