Poetry We Admire: The Body
Earlier this June I went tide pooling with a group of students. I was reading Carl Phillips again, Pale Colors in a Tall Field. Purple sea urchins were lying in wait in the water, or, failing in waiting, lay perfectly still.
I was having an argument with myself about the title poem, the lines “I’ve reached that point in my own life / where there’s so much I’d rather not remember, that / to be asked to do so can seem a cruelty, almost[.]” Phillips’ poem gathers such momentum from these lines — at once suggesting trauma, guilt & loss — that they seem to almost lift the piece to its conclusion. Waves making steady suggestions over the kelp.
The poem ends, “…I’d been arguing the difference between / the soul being cast out and the soul departing, so I / still believed in the soul, apparently. It was that long ago.” In just over a page the reader moves across years and paradigms, from a reluctance to behold to the particularity of loss.
The result is bittersweet, any joy we might take in the idea of the soul counterbalanced by the abandonment of that very belief. In the rocks, the forms of the water before water arrives.
What in Phillips’ poem, if not the soul, wishes the past remain behind? What demands it be remembered?
This June, Palette’s Poetry We Admire column looks at four recent poems which all engage with the theme of The Body, a site of growth, of memory, of loss and beginning, of wishes granted, left, or half-fulfilled.
We hope you enjoy these pieces as much as we have,
The Palette Team
to be awake is to find one
-self, raw as a bowl of lilies
waking up in the mirror
from "Op. 64 in C #"
by Shangyang Fang in Hobart
In the spareness of its three lines Fang’s poem, one of two published concurrently on Hobart, succeeds in placing the reader in a kind of twinned epiphany — of the first dawnings of consciousness, and, almost in turn, of the reality of the body. The speaker finds themself finding themself, “raw as a bowl of lilies” before the mirror. We admire this poem for how much it conjures in so brief a space.
I try to see myself as I am seen
Sliver of a body,
Superfund in June.
In the blank night, iron takes
Its mineral off.
from "Every Time I Look in the Mirror I See A Gulf"
by Sara J. Grossman in Waxwing
Returning to the site of a mirror, this poem of Grossman’s uses the structure of the couplet to at once evoke a feeling of bareness and enhance the piece through breathtaking enjambment, from “I am forever // Slipping out. / The stratosphere // Of the room breaks,” to “There are so many names for what // Is missing — membrane, bone, / Symmetry of nerve.” We admire this poem for its haunting tone, surprising turns, and revelatory end.
In my youth
where the dark gave way to flesh
I decided to draw a line against
just how much woman I’d be.
by Jari Bradley in The Adroit Journal
Like Fang and Grossman’s poems, Bradley’s poem uses sparsity to great effect. However, unlike Grossman’s haunting couplets and the clarity of Fang’s three single lines, Bradley’s poem generates tension from the patterning of its stanzas, which vary between couplets and tercets that seem to resist following any set sequence. We admire this poem at once for its breathtaking use of language, and the tensions its form creates — “my body spread / like any field / on fire, a wilding // or what could burn / an entire house down”.
I’m watching an old
woman crawl up the hill
of the city. I’m baptizing
myself in the acidachelake.
from "American Deathbed"
by Jiarong Zhang in BOAAT Journal
We love this poem of Zhang’s both for the profound sense of alienation it fosters — an alienation from others and from the self as well — but also for what, through omission, it succeeds in bringing to the fore. Lines like “Out there, / beyond the American Deathbed / you tell me there are lesions of / kindness,” at once center the body while eluding its direct address. We admire this poem for what it houses, and what it might draw forth that is housed in us.