Review of Body Work
At the edge
of the logging road nothing
but tall grass, movement,
a shape out of focus
sharpening – a bear cut
on its hind legs sniffing
the wind. Might have been
standing in a patch of sapling alder
coated in dust, or cottoning fireweed,
for the softness of seed fluff.
Might have wailed
showing pink gums and milk teeth
as the car cut into morning.
But it faded back into grass
where it first emerged,
fur licked and glowing. (“Done”)
I’m impressed by poet Emilia Nielsen’s sophomore collection, Body Work (Signature Editions, 2018), a considerable leap from her Gerald Lampert Award-nominated debut, Surge Narrows (Leaf Press, 2013) [see my interview with her around such here]. Nielsen is a British Columbia poet set to join York University in Toronto this summer as Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Science, in the Health and Society Program, and her Body Works writes the body as both a topic of study and of revision, managing both to articulate and rewrite, re-stitch and map an intricate series of patterns across the skin of each page. There is a meditative quality to Nielsen’s poems, but one akin to the language fractals of poets such as Margaret Christakos, Sylvia Legris or Christine McNair, composing pieces that concurrently seem less constructed than disassembled for the purpose of study and labelling, and precisely jumbled, jagged and staccato, as she opens the sequence “Dermographia: (Desire)”:
More than some accounting of notches, scrapes?
This birthmark, that mole. More than description
To stray, surface. Dig a little.
Become floozy, flimsy: dermographer?
Nielsen’s lyric sequences exist as explorations, picking and pinpointing of minutae around the body, and are remarkable for their vibrancy and sheer precision. Much as in Legris’ ongoing work, Nielsen’s cavalcade of body-study revels in language and in such exacting precision. As she write in the sequence “Surgical Notes”: “That I function well without an organ / but don’t have the know-how to stitch / a button back in place. Lacking how-to / to do a tidy job.””
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