Review by Cameron Conaway
THE BODY IS NO MACHINE
by Jennifer Perrine
New Issues Poetry & Prose
Western Michigan University, Dept. of English
1903 W. Michigan Ave.
Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5331
82 pp., $14.00
Jennifer Perrine's first book of poems, The Body Is No Machine, paints a portrait of those often-elusive frozen thoughts or glimpses in time, acknowledges but strips away the rough outer covering layer by layer--like the artichoke cover design by Lauren French--to reveal the heart of the matter. Perrine's subjects range from a dog attack to wrestling her brother flat to administer eye drops. At some point the poems--consistently yet without a recognizable pattern--become boiled down like wine. They move from the impalpable issue to the sweet essence of that inseparable relationship with the human body.
Broken into six sections and containing fifty total poems, The Body Is No Machine, due to its richness, feels like a work much larger. Perrine incorporates and experiments with shape poetry, line breaks, and some traditional forms in her free-verse collection. A sampling of her work from each section does little to capture her overall complexity, but should trigger an idea or two of what can be expected.
The first section How Clay Becomes Flesh is (as with all Perrine section titles) pulled directly from a poem within the section. Pica, home to that line, is a self-reflective poem in which personal narrative is grounded with physicality:
...and when I'm born, though she gives me a name
plain and utile as toothpaste, she insists
on calling me Magpie: and how she's right:
when I'm first caught filling my cavernous
maw with paint chips, plaster, coffee grounds pulled
from the trash...
Section two, The Night in Her Mouth, found in the poem I'm in Love with a Tooth Grinder, is another perfect marriage between common experiences in which most people are too annoyed over or removed from to delve into, to that of sensations within the body. The speaker says, "I love the sound of her slow cud / movement, her sympathy for the counted sheep, / how she'll ruminate for hours and come up / with nothing but her own circular thrum..."
Time and Song Enough is the title of section three and found in the poem Brood X. As in I'm in Love with a Tooth Grinder, this poem also explores the power of sound and the body with:
That sound says, savor,
one vibration rolls over the next, like your tongue
fondling a knot of tart berries or your own name,
how you could say it, Emily, like an adverb
modifying your whole unkempt world...
Epithalamium with Peeping Tom is home to section four's title, Fiancé of Death. The speaker, in representing the animalism of mating, says, "How he glares / at the twin menisci / of your breasts, as though he would bore into them, / his vision an auger, / undoing your body / like a bomb."
Clicks and Whirrs, the title of the fifth section, is found in the book's title poem The Body Is No Machine, about watching her father externally and internally post-cancer and remission:
…and even inside, the valve of one ventricle
puckering like a fish, or my own lips: perched
at the beginning of a word, before I realize:
he’s fallen asleep in his chair before the TV...
The final section of the book The Shift of Dirt is found in the poem Still Life, and suggests a haunting similarity between life and death, sociality and being alone:
…how we pause, holding ourselves immobile
in the midst of the party, how silent
we are, each pull of air just audible
beneath the babble, subtle as the shift
of dirt under the weight of lifeless feet...
Jennifer Perrine's work is an astoundingly layered, connected book of poems, regardless of the fact that it is her first book. To see an emerging poet with such a sharpened, well rounded skill-set is an absolute rarity. The Body Is No Machine has set the bar high for what is sure to be a career to watch unfold.
Cameron Conaway is the Poet-in-Residence at the University of Arizona.