Teratology: Poems

Susannah Nevison. Persea (Norton, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (64p) ISBN 978-0-89255-458-4
Nevison’s debut, winner of the 2014 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize in Poetry, blends the tripartite definition of her collection’s title (per the Collins English Dictionary): the medical study of physiological abnormalities, the biological development of monsters, and a collection of tales about fantastical creatures. Her opening lines (“If your daughter is born/ and her legs aren’t made/ for standing—if her feet/ are painted hooves”) set the tone for the delicately woven tale that follows, a series of meditations and dreamlike encounters that occur in nature and hospitals alike. “As in all good stories, you walked/ into the wolf’s mouth and you were born,” she writes. Titles such as “To My Pre-Op Self as a Marionette” suggest the vulnerability and exposure inherent in turning the body over to surgeons to “correct” it, as the poem considers an unspecified transformation ahead. Multiple poems share the titles “My Father Dreams of Horses,” “Morphine, the Recurring Dream of Birds,” and through them Nevison presents the psychology of physical difference, often using animal motifs as foils and participants in revisions of the body, merging her contemplation with images that invoke hallucination and anxiety: “In the slow hours, they touch me, hands I mistake for birds/ threading nests with hair or swab or gauze.” Nevison’s startling, lyrical debut vividly investigates perceptions of the body. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/18/2015
Release date: 05/01/2015
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