March 2008

Courtney Birst


Dear Body: by Dan Machlin

When I began reading this book I wasn’t sure I liked it, but upon finishing it and flipping through it, I see my handwritten notes scrawled across the pages. I struggled with finding or feeling cohesion amongst the poems, occasionally even the lines within a poem lacked a real connection, lacked any rhythm. What I discovered however, was nestled amongst the confusion were lines I wanted to read again.

In “Letter 2” the line “’So sorry,’ I said, for a lifetime of sorries” resonated within me. I underlined it twice and starred it. Several pages later, in “Fifth Letter” I highlighted, “…I was alone -- tabulating the pros and cons of my history, sitting beside the ache of one’s arrogance meets devastation – ”.

It was when I read the title poem, “Dear Body:” that I finally felt I connected with a poem in its entirety. It ends, “you are not these words” and I sighed, grateful for a poem I could love from beginning to end. My notes on this page read, “Finally a poem that speaks to me!”

The book is divided into three sections: Dear Body:; Antebodies; and Beautiful Linear Bodies. I found each section so dramatically different it was hard to believe they were written by the same poet. Antebodies is written as if it is one long poem, untitled and broken into a stanza per page. Here, once again, I found it hard to be pulled into the rhythm of the poems, but I was seduced by lines within them: “As if these questions pour / in and out of sense.” “I would stare at the blank page, / drink a sip of coffee and / contemplate my ineptness.” It is the last poem in this section that I loved the most, that I returned to again:

It’s not really important
whether poetry is red
or blue -- I do it for fun.
Or because it doesn’t hurt.
Or really because I’m scared
about nothing being done.

And finally in the last section, Beautiful Linear Bodies, Machlin returns to longer, titled poems which are some of my favorite in the collection. Again I struggle with many of the poems as a whole, but within them I find words and lines and phrases I love.

In “Waste Stream” I underlined, “I unearthed what you could not say.” In “Edible Buildings” it was, “I closet bake these sugar feelings.” “Home-Dyed Uniforms” is a poem I liked as a whole, even though it jumps and turns, weaves back and forth and makes me wonder what it is all about exactly. And then I read this line: “a man whose almost is himself / a cabinet of curiosities / a man of bones,” and instantly I am in love. How these lines resonate, even if they seemed slightly disconnected from the rest of the poem.

Overall this collection of poems seems disjointed and choppy, but within them lays phrases to fall in love with and reread again and again. While I struggled to find a connection amongst each section, amongst the poems, and even amongst the words and lines contained in the poems, I found the book an enjoyable read worth the time it took to find the places I loved.

Dear Body: by Dan Machlin
Ugly Duckling Press
85 pages