Title: Escaping the Body, by Chloe N. Clark Pub date: March 7, 2022 Written By: Bruno Ríos
So much has been written about the body that it is hard to imagine a new approach to it. And the reader could say, especially after a first read of this collection of poems, that the body is the central spine of the voice in these texts. But the most important question we could ask when faced with these poems is not whether the body is the main leitmotiv, or even if the body as a metaphor becomes a sort of texture that navigates each line – the body of text, of work, I mean. More importantly, we should ask what kind of experience does the body feel as subject? Which kind of body are we reading? One of the answers to these questions resides in the point of view that articulates the poems, a sort of intimate position that is also external to the experience. What is moving about this position is that the poems are filled with a clarity that is only possible when we assume that the experience of the body is sometimes incommunicable: the body in pain, the dead body, the body missing. Pleasure. As Elaine Scarry has written about the nature of pain and language: “either it remains inarticulate or else the moment it first becomes articulate it silences everything else: the moment language bodies forth the reality of pain, it makes all further statements and interpretations seem ludicrous and inappropriate, as hollow as the world content that disappears in the head of the person suffering.” This position is obvious in the poem “Nociception” a word from the medical field that refers to the detection of pain stimuli. Clark writes: I wonder how we learn to talk about aching when all of us speak with different tongues
sharp and stabbing and dull and throbbing hoping that someone can translate our pain back to us
The poem is notable because it articulates both the relatability of experience and the impossibility of communication in the experience of pain. Sometimes the texts strike in the horror of the dead body, in poems like “Missing Girl Found,” when the turn of phrase becomes a condition of possibility, of alternative outcomes that are most rare, and death turns common. Lines like “missing girl found to have been loved by her family and now her mother sometimes curls into her daughter’s bed during the day, struggling to inhale her secrets, or even just the scent of her shampoo dug deep into pillows / [...] missing girl found to be happy / or / missing girl found to be missed [...].” But in others, Clark’s voice echoes the nature of the narrative confession of a sort of situational poetry that is harder and harder to find these days. Not only does it become a diction of plain reality when she writes: “The best way to practice/ swimming is to learn/ how to drown.”, but also a sort of intimacy that can only be possible when said in a whisper, as a secret. In “Cooking With Turmeric,” this intimacy takes center stage and, while surrounded by other poems that deal with rocket ships, zombies, cadavers, and other multiple imaginations of the body, the poem becomes remembrance of a time we shouldn’t be able to see. She writes: In years, I will have forgotten even the precise way you spoke – each word always so perfectly enunciated, but
I will remember this moment clearly, how the kitchen lights glint of our skin and the lines of our palms stand out so distinctly.
The body is, as this text shows us, the means in which we experience the world in its minute details and in its incommensurable complexity. Escaping the Body functions, then, as a collection of poems in which the reader will encounter an intimacy that shines in the ambiguity of that complexity, in the individuality that most of the time remain unknowable. Clark shows in this book that her poems are as moving as her fiction in the same way that a confession can seem a gift: a cursed gift if you will. It shares the same nature of the confession St. Augustine wrote 1,600 years ago when he said: “The mind commands the body and is instantly obeyed. The mind commands itself and meets resistance.” With a unique voice and a diction that keeps the reader engaged with possibility, Escaping the Body is one of the most notable books of this year. It is ultimately a clear reflection on what it means to be alive in a time when our bodies seem more vulnerable than ever.