How To Survive The Apocalypse by Jacqueline Allen Trimble

How To Survive The Apocalypse
By Jacqueline Allen Trimble
New South Books / University of Georgia Press
Paperback, 96 pages

Award-winning Alabama poet pens collection marking world-ending moments

By C. T. Salazar
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger

If every age has its poets—makes its poets—we should treat with certain rarity the age we’re in and the ways it has gifted us the poet Jacqueline Allen Trimble. Trimble’s sophomore collection of poems “How To Survive The Apocalypse” shows us a poet of lyric leap and historic reckoning on par with Nikki Giovanni and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Each of the two sections of “How To Survive The Apocalypse” open with an epigraph from a prophet—Nina Simone and the Old Testament’s Jeremiah. Their musical heeds act as two poles of the poet’s acoustic space in which her voice finds its striking resonance. In her own words, Trimble prefaces the collection, saying “Truth is, the world is always ending in one way or the other.”

Jacqueline Allen Trimble lives and writes in Montgomery, Alabama. She is a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, a Cave Canem Fellow, and an Alabama State Council on the Arts Literary Fellow. “American Happiness”, her debut collection (NewSouth Books 2016) won the Balcones Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and journals including Poetry, The Offing, The Louisville Review, The Rumpus, and Poet Lore.She is a professor of English and chairs the Department of Languages and Literatures at Alabama State University. 

From the opening poem of “How to Survive The Apocalypse”, the speaker has us evaluate our own privilege among the apocalypse and know that for so many the world has already ended, long before whatever plagues hound us now. We open to a first poem, “Plague:” 

When it comes

as it always does

do as you are told,

abandon the schools and shops,

the arenas and churches.

Make a list. What can you live without?

It’s this question we carry with us throughout the rest of the collection, as we meet those whose world ended against their terms—Nat Turner, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, every mother who any moment could become her. 

For the poet, knowing these endings is not enough to accept them as inevitable. Poems like “Kneeling Is No Longer An Option” shows the anger that cannot be extinguished by the performative: “If I could fill up this whole sheet of paper / with rage, I would fill it up like this / rage, rage, rage, rage, rage.”

Trimble also reminds us of the righteous nature of anger when it calls for accountability. Just two poems away is “Nat Turner Returns for His Stolen Parts and Finds a Sermon on Rage:
            He wishes

            to pull himself together. He knocks on doors.

            And the ones who answer clutch his parts like charms.


            he creeps between the sutures of history

            and takes himself back.

The prayer the poem’s speaker has Nat Turner utter in the closing is among the collection’s sharpest lines: “Our rage–yes, Lord– our rage / more powerful than despair, / able to leap tall headstones / for generations.” It’s in these lines we understand the nuance of the speaker’s anger: as providing the site with which transformative justice could be possible, where survival and joy go hand in hand. 

The joy itself comes just as necessary as the survival. We dip into the golden nostalgia with the speaker in poems like “‘We Was Girls Together’”: “Girls dancing / in the school gym. Tossing our hair. / our bodies as elegant as satin / gloves. Our hearts certain and unbroken.”

“How To Survive The Apocalypse”reminds us the good times are worth keeping at the front of our hearts, as the world hits our chest. Deep in the pulse of these poems is the hum of revolutionary optimism, despite the ongoing despair the speaker navigates and sings to us from. 

C.T. Salazar is a Latinx poet and librarian from Mississippi. His debut collection “Headless John the Baptist Hitchhiking” (Acre Books) was named a 2023 finalist of the Theodore Roethke Memorial Prize in poetry.


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