Made to Explode by Sandra Beasley

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 88 pgs.
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Made to Explode by Sandra Beasley begins its exploration of American life with the poem, “Heirloom,” which conjures all kinds of sentiments in American thinking. It sets the stage for Beasley’s unraveling of culture taken for granted — the past passed down from one generation to the next (sometimes, it is scrubbed a little cleaner and the dark truth of it requires some digging). In these early poems, Beasley is uncovering the roots of her heritage, a father who was deployed and tries to connect with her but fails to see how she’s grown into a young woman in “Elephant.” He collects things from American icons in places of war, like Hard Rock t-shirts, while she strives to connect with him buying things at a Ranger Surplus store. Despite being family, there is a disconnect between them, they are blindly bumbling through the motions of connection. Isn’t this how many of us feel about our parents — those who have lived longer, different lives from us but have not spoken candidly of that life? A mystery to solve?

"The Conversation" (pg.10-2)

is how history claims us:
not in the gesture of one but
in the conversation of many,
the talk that gets the job done.

Without these interactions between ourselves and others that lead to action, aren’t we all forgotten as the present moves on without us? Our moments are so fleeting in the grander scheme of time and history. Beasley is picking through history and uncovering things she didn’t know, like a band in “Nostalgia” that had a name to honor Emmett Till, but spelled the name wrong. In her memory, she recalls the joy of their music, but they kept spelling the boy’s name wrong — this does not sit well.

Beasley’s examination of the past and culture expands to include monuments and figures from history, including Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. She speaks to his “benevolence” regarding his slaves but it is clear that “kindness” extended only so far. Each poem in the collection builds onto the next in a crescendo of unraveling histories, culture lost to a country burying it’s own truth, until a reckoning is all that can be left. She reminds us in “Einstein, Midnight” that “Anything, in the right hands, can be made to explode.”

The final poem echoes C.P. Cavafy’s “Ithaka,” in that Beasley’s journey will be and has been taken through the past, into the present but this journey is not over. Like life and its various moments, we are Made to Explode. Poke into the past and what you thought you knew about yourself and others will definitely be altered, but to blithely live one’s life without examining actions, reactions, past, and present is to have lived a hollow existence without growth, love, loss, and understanding. We cannot build conversation and change without it.

RATING: Cinquain

Check out her panel discussion with Kim Addonizio, Katherine E. Young, and moderator Reuben Jackson at the virtual Gaithersburg Book Festival 2021:


  1. This sounds powerful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It sounds like this volume has a nice structure. I like it when a collection builds to something.