Saturday, April 6, 2013

Melanie McCabe, History of the Body

WordTech Communications, 2012

In her stunning first book History of the Body, Melanie McCabe explores the shared, often uneasy narratives of house and body. Brilliant admixtures of imaginative wildness and lyric control, her poems seem an inevitable part of the “industry of the heart and lungs”—and the collection as a whole, beautifully sequenced...”
--Claudia Emerson, author of Late Wife and Secure the Shadow

Melanie McCabe
Formally exquisite, the lucid poems in Melanie McCabe’s History of the Body remind us that everything we know is embodied—language, memory, pleasure, loss. This debut will delight the reader with the poise of its intellect and the supple playfulness of its imagination.—Eric Pankey, author of The Pear As One Example and Cenotaph

The poems are dazzling and they are shadowed with grief.  They are achingly human and, at moments, witty…Sensuous, sensual, and reflective, this book (a poetic page-turner!) tells the living history of a body—a female body—inhabited by a fierce, fiery mind. --Jennifer Atkinson, author of Drift Ice and The Drowned City

McCabe conjures the lush world of suburban adolescence, and leads us, with her unflinching eye, through the bloom and ache of desire, and the inevitable loss that shadows any kind of want. These astonishing poems smolder, glitter, then blaze. --Erika Meitner, author of Ideal Cities and Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls

 * * *

The poems in this debut volume are focused in some way on the idea of the body—as it is inhabited in childhood, in adolescence, and into middle age-- and as the means through which we experience desire, love, children of our own, and growing older.

In the book’s title poem, that relationship of one’s self to the body it inhabits is explored as it changes over the course of a lifetime.  In childhood,

            “...there was no body separate
            from the self.  It was simply the border, the quick sketch,
            the outline that made us visible.” 

In adolescence and adulthood, however, that lack of self-consciousness is lost, and the body becomes “an accessory.  And later still,/ a blemish to conceal.”

Another poem, “Paperboy,” describes an adolescent girl’s first experience of her body as she moves beyond childhood:

            “…I dawdled along the yard’s perimeter, knowing longing
            without knowing what I longed for.  The voice

            that rose in him was bass – my own voice,
            vibrato.  I was reedy – a flute.  A straw.  Desire

            outstripped my body…”

Although not purely autobiographical, many of the poems in the book deal with powerful and life-altering events: the loss of love; a mother’s relationship with her daughters; a struggle with illness; the impending death of a loved one.

In “Invention,” the speaker struggles with the difficulty of disengaging from a relationship, of learning how to begin to see the lover, not as the fantasy she created for herself, but in a more realistic way:

            “It is so much harder to disassemble you.

            A fool, I tinkered and nailed without
            instruction or blueprint, let construction
            happen in this one small space, and now
            there is no window or door to shove you
            through.  You and I within this place
            take up more room than the air…”

The poem “Exile” offers a poignant look at the body and mind of the speaker’s mother as it begins to fail her near the end of her life:

            “Her bones still hold her and so she lives in them, but my mother
            misses the old world, meridian, noon’s hot rum to loosen her limbs,
            her tongue.  She cannot carry the sharp sounds of this place

            in her head long enough to say them.  One day does not tether
            to another, and stories gallop off without their bridles.  The ground
            is dangerous with fruit and so she gives up walking…”

Though the subject matter here is often loss, even heartbreak, the poems at times have an element of humor to them and are balanced by a kind of wry observation of the world. There are references to all kinds of popular culture from the ‘60s and ‘70s.  In “These Songs,” the reader encounters Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Supremes, and Martha and the Vandellas; in “Beneath the Code,” Gilligan’s Island, Rob and Laura Petrie, and I Dream of Jeannie all make an appearance.

To read some of the poems in their entirety, please click below:
To purchase the book on Amazon, please click here.

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