When Will We Stop Swimming?: Nathan Logan on Amy King’s Slaves To Do These Things

Slaves to Do These Things, Amy King, Blaze VOX, 2009

Amy King is a powerhouse of the poetry world. It seems that every time a new issue of __________ is published, she has at least three poems included. With Ana Božičević, King co-curates The Stain of Poetry Reading Series in Brooklyn. And now with her latest book, King again proves she is one of the most talented poets of her generation.

In Slaves to Do These Things, King weaves, through five acts, separate and connected vignettes of longing. Her poems seem to be speaking in an American voice––we are lost and we are not sure how to get to where we want to go. King’s poems speak to the now. I dare anyone to say they haven’t felt what these lines from “We Are Great Songs” say:

Like people, I’m a stranger
here now, squarely out
of pivot––but if I stand still
enough, motionless, I begin
to belong.

Many times throughout this book, King’s descriptions of our wanderings are lovely. We are the people from these lines in “Stimulus Package”:

…We lean
and lap the streams of coffees
and cream, milky caramels
that blow the kiss of hellos
into bombs overflowing
fast, jasmine
blossom masks that make
the toxins’ provinces
burn our angular bodies.

We are also these people in “State of a Nation”:

We live as presidents.
We hold on to the value
of a vote, a soliloquy, a sword,
and the lights after curtain.

Slaves to Do These Things is uncomfortable because it is true. Contemporary poetry is certainly one of the best, if not the best place, to discuss and tease out what is happening in the world around us. Slaves to Do These Things is the news William Carlos Williams was talking about. In “This Coffin’s Bucket of Soil”, King writes, “we swim toward sharks together.” When will we stop swimming?

Purchase Slaves to Do These Things


Nathan Logan is the author of the e-book Dick (PANGUR BAN PARTY, 2009) and chapbook Holly from Muncie (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2008). He is a MFA candidate at Minnesota State University Moorhead.