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ASU author's new poetry book wrestles with hope, lament in climate change

ASU associate professor Sally Ball's new book "Hold Sway" is due to come out in April

Sally Ball

Sally Ball, an American poet and ASU English professor, discusses her upcoming book "Hold Sway" in her office on campus in Tempe, Arizona, on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.

ASU associate professor of English and author Sally Ball said she found inspiration for her new book of poetry, “Hold Sway,” while on a writer’s retreat in France. 

Ball was reading “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene” by Roy Scranton, and said she was intrigued by how he discussed how art can help us learn to "die gracefully" in a world succumbing to environmental crises in his writing. 

In her new book, she said she grapples with the idea of this hopeless inevitability of environmental degradation while questioning if room for optimism still remains. 

The work comes at a time when scientists are conveying a more dire picture for the world's future due to climate change, with a United Nations scientific panel on climate change finding that the temperature increases the world will see by 2040 will require drastic intervention that hasn't been seen before in history, according to a 2018 New York Times article.

Ball said she had been struggling with a feeling of uselessness in her acts of environmental resistance, and burdened by this weight, she used her craft as an outlet.

She said she maneuvered from her usual poetry – which is typically family and relationship focused – into a larger, more political viewpoint. 

“There’s this kind of tension between whether or not you're allowed to have any optimism, and whether or not you can believe in how bad it is,” Ball said. 

As a mother, Ball said that thoughts about her children's futures only heightened the anxiety. While much poetry ruminates on the past, she said, she wanted her poems to look forward as well. 

“I wanted to be able to think about the very current moment, and a little bit about the future because I was so haunted by my fear that there wouldn't be one,” Ball said.

“Soon Scrap Heap,” from "Hold Sway" by Sally Ball (NY: Barrow Street, 2019).

Jacob Friedman, a communications specialist at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, said for him, “Hold Sway” shows a light at the end of the tunnel. 

“I think particularly within 'Hold Sway' what we see is eventually a move towards optimism and a move towards hope," Friedman said. 

On a technical level, he said that the book showcases how Ball’s strong control of language allows her writing to be both dense and accessible. 

“I think one of the things that draws me to Sally's work is the combination of accessibility and intellectual rigor,” Friedman said. “Some of Sally's work can be quite dense and difficult, but it's also rendered in this very plain direct language.”

Ball’s students said that the writing has made an impression on them as well. 

Katie Berta, an ASU alumna who worked on her thesis with Ball, said that “Hold Sway” is some of the author's strongest work. 

“Some of the stuff she’s been writing recently is my favorite of anything I’ve read by her,” Berta said. “Her poems have this sort of intuitive, deeply-rooted sense for image. That’s what grounds them.”

Mary Lee, a senior studying English and one of Ball’s students, also commented on how impressed she is with Ball’s style. 

“She writes in a way that's similar to the way that she teaches, with intense clarity and precision,” Lee said. “She has a really talented voice of precision and is able to navigate challenging subjects, but at the same time has a fluidity on the page.”

“Hold Sway” is not yet released, but Ball said the book is planned to launch at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix at 7 p.m. on April 12. 

 Reach the reporter at and follow @wpmcclelland on Twitter. 

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