Sure Extinction

Buy at Small Press Distribution

Published by Elixir Press, 2017
Winner of the 2015 Antivenom Poetry Award

In John Estes’s Sure Extinction, everything is up for grabs. It starts out with the inscription “A Hymn to Fate,” and it’s a particularly open fate, open hymn, that follows, where anyone’s life is, as he writes, “like yours . . . little / better than, or better for, moving a comma.” We’re inscribed by language, yes, he sees that, but it’s more than that, it’s the very way we imagine not just who we are, but what we can be, just as we define forever “as however long / it takes before you start / attaching prefixes.” It’s a frightening meditation, but it feels right to me. It feels spot on, because he keeps sight of the possibilities inherent in the mediations of language. “We are obliged to adapt,” he writes, and it’s exactly what we need to remember about the forms extinction can take, and their inevitability. —John Gallaher

Sure Extinction is a book of determined disintegrations.  It digs up the lawn, buckles the paved road, picks apart the resignations of suburban breadwinning until “Each has found its element, / and can be broken down no further.” John Estes’s poems couple an unsparing awareness of life’s failure “to deliver on its promised deliverance” with an uncompromising intolerance for the lies we tell ourselves in order to believe that it does. In these pages, Estes demands an honest accounting, one in which underwater mortgages and regrets get weighed alongside the soft breath of a sleeping child without anyone knowing which will prove the weightier. These are poems that refuse merely to go through the motions—even if, as Estes fears, “None of it saves.”  —Kimberly Johnson

What I immediately liked about this manuscript was that there is so much going on in this poetry. Almost every line contained an essential concept that evoked depth and pondering: for example, “No more than say a pair of boots records in its wear the life you live in them.” To me, such exemplary lines contain depth in them, contain a full story that could go on and that you wish to go on. I was drawn to the essential implication of this author’s lines, a quality I consider crucial for any successful book of poetry. In writing, I believe that one does not write but, rather, one consistently and sublimely implies.

I enjoyed turning every page and absorbing the accruing force of these poems, until I had a unified book in my hands. Sure Extinction displayed many moving parts, presented multiple questions of complexity. In the end, I enjoyed how this book illustrated that the scarcity of self-realisation can truly arrive and can be genuine. However one gets there, such is what makes every journey, trial, and pilgrimage worth it. —Nick Samaras, Contest Judge, from the Preface