Now Reading: From Surviving to Living: A Review of Caroline Kaufman’s ‘When the World Didn’t End’


From Surviving to Living: A Review of Caroline Kaufman’s ‘When the World Didn’t End’

September 30, 20197 min read

20-year-old Caroline Kaufman’s sophomore poetry collection When the World Didn’t End is all about learning to live instead of simply surviving. The recent release comes behind Light Filters In, a collection centered on mental health, first loves and healing from trauma. Kaufman started sharing her poetry on Instagram under the handle @poeticpoison, which now has over 200 thousand followers. Through her platform, Kaufman was able to form a strong community with her followers and other Insta-poets who shared knowledge of the publishing industry with her.

“As someone who is really one of the youngest Insta-poets within the community, it has been so great to get advice from people who are older than me and know the industry a lot better than I do,” Kaufman writes. “I feel like I am able to navigate the whole world of Insta-poetry and publishing so much better because of the connections I’ve made with other people on the same path as me.”

Not only does her work reflect the progression of her craft, but it also reflects her progression as a person.

The book is divided into sections, the first section depicting “what was,” or what the speaker’s life was like in the midst of his or her recovery. A recurring theme throughout “what was” is how trauma can become intertwined with one’s identity to the point where one doesn’t remember who one is without that trauma. Thus, when someone finally starts to overcome their mental health struggles, one may find oneself wondering what comes next. Kaufman delves into this phenomenon using metaphors like preparing for a natural disaster or other situations where one’s survival is at stake.

For people who produce art, build careers around advocacy, or otherwise become known through their trauma, their identities can become even more enmeshed with what has happened to them. People see Kaufman’s – or any artist’s – work about trauma, and they resonate with it, and the artist feels that they have to continue producing similar works, even if it hurts. Kaufman encapsulates this in a single line: “people see my bloodshed as beautiful”.

Book cover provided by publicist

She also touches on how recovery can be frightening. The lines “the only thing I feared more / than having to break / was having to rebuild” express a common sentiment among people who confront issues with their mental health. Once someone overcomes some of the most difficult challenges in their journey, dealing with the little things can be equally as difficult because it is hard to determine whether the upward trend will continue. Even in the second section of the book, which has a more optimistic tone, the speaker expresses that they are still dissatisfied with where they are in life because they could be improving. This certainly resonates with readers who have had similar thought processes.

However, self-forgiveness and self-love are central to recovery and are therefore central to Kaufman’s works.

“Even after all the times I’ve tried / to hurt my body,” she writes, “it still knows how to rebuild. / it still knows how to heal.”

Being patient with oneself during recovery and learning to appreciate the little things, like how a body protects itself, is key to making progress. In one poem, Kaufman reflects on how frequently her favorite season changed, and how one’s “favorite moment becomes the moment in front of you.”

Another recurring theme of the collection is one of allowing yourself to take up space. This idea can be applicable to one’s personal life as well as the world of publishing. Kaufman told Affinity how social media has allowed writers who have traditionally been excluded from publishing to build their own audiences and develop their writing.

“Poetry is often considered a high art form, and the genre has usually been filled with mostly straight white men,” she wrote. “I’ve found a lot of fellow women who are poets and a lot of fellow queer poets finding their followings online, and having that translate into audiences and book sales, instead of having to go through the traditional route of querying agents and submitting manuscripts before any audience is established.”

Like other Insta-poets, including Jasmin Kaur, Kaufman expressed concerns about the changes to Instagram’s algorithm and how it is impacting creatives.

“I’ve talked to a lot of Insta-poets about how changes to Instagram as a platform has really halted growth and engagement for small businesses and individual creators,” Kaufman wrote. “Now that people are able to promote their posts through ads, Instagram will limit the amount of followers who are shown your posts, unless you pay for those posts to be promoted.

“I think it’s made growing an audience really difficult for people, and I’m lucky I grew most of my audience before they made those changes to the platform, because I think it would be incredibly difficult to reach that much of an audience if I were starting from scratch now.”

Starting anew, whether in recovery or in one’s writing career, can be scary, especially when it comes to how people perceive you. In one poem, Kaufman likens herself to a book that certainly doesn’t appear enticing from its exterior but swears she is “worth the read.” She certainly is.

You can buy When the World Didn’t End on Bookshop.

Featured image via ACV Photography

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Nadia Bey

Nadia is a student journalist and the current Books Editor for Affinity. In addition to reading, she is interested in science, pop culture and policy.