Author: Sherry Quann Lee
Publisher: Modern History Press
ISBN: 978-1-932690-63-7

Click Here To Purchase How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman's life (Reflections of America)

Suicide is a complex and shocking reality for humanity, more shocking than murder on account of the reason, or the lack of it, that drives one to end one’s own life – life that is so amorously called ‘sweet’. Suicide is the final ‘No’ that seals any possibility of argument, persuasion, or action for/against the person who has chosen to end his/her life. Many such people, before attempting self-killing, leave suicide notes – the final goodbye with or without telling why ending one’s life was necessitated. It is this act of writing/communicating before dying that symbolizes the last instance of involvement in life – the lees of life. And this thin line between life and death is the subject of Sherry Quann Lee’s poetry book How to Write a Suicide Note (Modern History Press, 2008). 

The subtitle of the book serial essays that saved a woman’s life dispels the aversive feeling that tends to grab the title’s reader, assuring that Lee’s book is not a collection of ‘suicide recipes’. On the contrary, How to Write a Suicide Note vouches for life. As Lee writes in the book’s Introduction, suicide attempts made by her were desperate attempts to be seen, heard, loved, and stay alive; writing suicide notes is thus a final dart for living, for returning to life, in the hope of finding it different, better, and livable than before. What makes Lee’s attempted suicide unique is the depth of her traumatic experiences that would shoot through her, leaving an insight into self-destruction beyond a mere human animal in pain; for her, trauma is not individual but historical!

Using free, informal, and prosaist style of verse, Lee reflects on her experiences as a Black-Chinese American who is torn between the dominance of white cultural ideals and the universal human right to be her real self. The fact that she had been sucked in to the pool of cultural expectations, making her live a life she did not choose, became the biggest trauma of her existence. Her race was something she was born with; it lay in her history like a darkness cowering from the force of societal rejection. Her problem is thus not simply individual but historical. To break from this silent oppression, Lee feels she must speak, and speak through the written word. When the stifling pressure of the fakeness in her life gets close to drown her in the dark waters of her troubled identity, using her right to write suicide notes saves her; she holds by her notes because she wants to live. 

The poems in How to Write a Suicide Note are unstructured, written mostly in a poignant mode with a penchant for freedom of style that is compatible with her quest for the freedom to return to life. Lee’s imagery is palpable and born spontaneously to the thinking prevalent in the moment. At places, her desultory style of thrumming on her motifs – truth, identity, relationship, gender, cultural values, family, and life against death – creates a poetical delirium that at once connects the reader to her voice while at the same time hiding her at a safe distance. She keeps the reader engaged not only in the glimpses of her life but also in making him/her think of the abstractions vital to our ‘normal life’ in a world where skin color and accentuation of a language translate into worth or contempt; into reward or trauma. ‘What is the price of shame?’ Lee asks, and ‘What is the price of desire?’

Books like How to Write a Suicide Note do not come out frequently. It is a rare gem that gives a new style to poetry, a new direction to criticism, and a new meaning to the life of those who have suffered from trauma in the depths of their self. Above all, it is the book for those who want to live. In Lee’s words: 

Every word, every phrase, every verse I write

is a blessed breath, a will to live,

a protest against invisibility,

a protest against death.

Click Here To Purchase How to Write a Suicide Note: serial essays that saved a woman's life (Reflections of America)