Review by Mike Maggio
by Kim Roberts
3030 E. Second Street
Long Beach, CA 90803
2011 77 pp., $14.95
Animal Magnetism takes the reader on an unexpected and fascinating tour – a tour of the human body via an exploration of unusual museums and peculiar collections of medical memorabilia. From Philadelphia to Florence, from London to Istanbul, the poems in the collection escort us on a curious journey and, like a lyrical “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!,” present us with an amalgamation of the odd and the amazing while, at the same time, exploring physical frailty and the limitations of the human body.
“The Largest Shoe,” for example, leads us to the Shoe Museum at Temple University’s School of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia, where we are presented with the medical phenomenon gigantism:
The largest shoe in the collection
came from a petite woman
with gigantism in one leg
Almost whimsical in nature, this poem incorporates the speaker’s self-consciousness with her own body and, like many of the poems in the book, ends on a more serious, existential note:
That’s what we all dream of, though:
excision. As if we could simply
cut it away,
the enormity –
everything our bodies can produce,
the scope of our capacity
the weight of mystery.
Animal Magnetism, in fact, tackles the very real medical problems Roberts faced while caring for a friend who was terminally ill. The discoveries made while dealing with the weakness of the human body are embodied in the medical investigations and findings reflected in the intriguing exhibits we are taken to as we explore the book.
Animal Magnetism, however, is not all mystery, nor is it all macabre, though certainly those elements are present throughout the collection. The collection also includes poems that are personal and touching, poems that speak of love and yearning, perhaps best reflected in the imaginary husband poems which are scattered throughout and include such titles as “My Imaginary Husband,” “The Curls of My Imaginary Husband” and, even, “I Don’t Have a Husband, I Have a Nutritionist.” These poems are sensual and passionate, yet continue to explore the human body and its limitations as in these lines from “The Testicles of My Imaginary Husband”:
Husband, someone packed
your groceries poorly;
hangs low, I palm it,
feel your merchandise
move, I like to see you
inside your jeans.
Like the other poems in the book, the imaginary husband poems explore the human body, yet with a compassion that belies the coldness of medical observation and scientific exploration. In this sense, Animal Magnetism combines the scientific with the human capacity for love.
Roberts’ verse is lean and lyrical, and her poems are packed in a contemporary formalism of tercets and quatrains, with a smattering of distichs and other stanzaic forms that shape them into nuggets that could easily have appeared in the 19th and early 20th century when many of the medical phenomena she presents were collected and catalogued. Yet the formalism is easy and non-intrusive and frames the poems in a sheath of historicity, as if we were observing them like specimens behind an antique glass display.
In many ways, Animal Magnetism presents us with illusion, like a freak show which forces us to face the weird and the unpleasant, in a curious, nonthreatening way. Roberts’ ability to combine such elements with the personal and the poetic speaks to her creative skills and leaves one anticipating what her next attempt will entail.
Mike Maggio has published fiction, poetry, travel and reviews in Potomac Review, Pleiades, Apalachee Quarterly, The L.A. Weekly, The Washington CityPaper, Gypsy, Pig Iron, DC Poets Against the War and others. He is the author of Your Secret is Safe With Me (Black Bear Publications, 1988), Oranges From Palestine (Mardi Gras Press, 1996) and Sifting Through the Madness (Xlibris, 2001). His newest poetry collection, deMOCKcracy, was published in June, 2007 by Plain View Press. He has an MFA from George Mason University and is currently working on a novel.