September 2007

Courtney Birst


The Body is No Machine by Jennifer Perrin

When I began reading this book I struggled to find my pace with it -- it was easy for me to put it down and walk away. I liked several lines from each poem, but I had a hard time enjoying each poem as a whole. For example, in the poem “To My Cannibalized Twin” I loved the line “You can regard / it a kindness: my desire to absorb / has always been there, waiting to get drunk / on the next heart…” but did not care for the rest of the poem. One of my favorite lines in the book is from the poem “Ménage a Trois with Two Women and an Imaginary Man.” The poem ends, “…how she’ll sing / all day, remembering his laugh and moan / in another woman’s mouth: that caress / she’ll steal back to later when she’s alone.”

This changed dramatically however when I began reading Section Two of the collection, titled “The Night in Her Mouth.” Once I began this section I found myself moving through these poems quickly, unable to stop reading -- each word and poem surprisingly sensual and satisfying. “I’m in Love with a Tooth-Grinder,” the second poem in this section, begins: “How she crushes the fine bones of her dreams / like so much grist, turns the night / in her mouth.”

Each poem grew more vivid and alive, until they became a part of my own images. When reading the lines “on summer nights, our sweat fine as vapor / aromatic as a phosphorescent / smudge against the dark…” from the poem “Because You Have No Sense of Smell,” I can almost see a pale green glow.

Section Three, titled “Time and Song Enough” pulled me further under its spell with its raw images. The first poem in this section, “Brood X” contains the line, “…the punch / of your hips against the dark, as though they had borne / holsters…” It is so vivid I can see the outline of bony hips jutting up against the night.

I was surprised by the raw sexuality this collection of poems contains. It is often subtle, such as with the lines “Em slices through the sweat / and perfume, leans her torso into the bar like it’s a lover, / waits to be served.” from “Out on My Birthday, October 8, 1998,” but it resounds with the reader. In “Because You’re No Magician” the words are so palpable I can practically feel the fingers grazing across my own neck:

I mean the way you touch me
before you leave,
unfurling your fingers, a length of scarves
falling from your sleeve
onto the drinkable part of my throat -
or how you speak
in your sleep in words secret as Latin, the hocus pocus
of your somniloquy leaking into the dark.  

After finishing the book and glancing over it, I was hard-pressed to settle on a favorite. I loved “Elegy for the Night We Met”, which ends so beautifully: “…to wonder what it might be like to close / that night with more than a taste of your voice / like rusty water in my mouth, the quick tingle / of it on my lips, glints of ice where it froze.” And I loved “Ballad for My Sweetheart the Drunk” in which every line fits perfectly, each is a ballad indeed. “Tullio’s Adam,” which chronicles the smashing of Tullio Lombardo’s sculpture, Adam, at the Metropolitan Museum is full of phenomenal imagery that leaps off the page.

While I began this book with a less-than-fully-engaged attitude, I ended it fully absorbed by each poem. As I reread them to find my favorite lines and stanzas, underlined the ones I loved most, many lines starred and highlighted, my notes scribbled along side. It is easy to see these words drew me in and didn’t let go -- not even when I reached the final page.

The Body is No Machine by Jennifer Perrin
New Issues Poetry & Prose
ISBN: 1930974698
92 pages