The Hideous Hidden

Sylvia Legris. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2537-3
In her first collection to be published in the U.S., Canadian poet Legris, whose collection Nerve Squall won the 2006 Griffin Prize, sings an “ode to the duodenum,” as well as to the kidneys, the spleen, and other “fleshes.” “Sweetly/ the plaintive polypeptides sing” in these short, sound-driven, playful poems. Anatomical and medical language, cold and clinical in other contexts, becomes sensuous musical terrain; the sonic atmosphere Legris creates is as thick and slippery as the innards she describes. Quite literally visceral—in both subject matter and impact—the poems are heavily researched, drawing on medical texts from the classical period, through the Renaissance, and into 18th- and 19th-century medical texts. The bodies, both sick and well, that Legris renders so vividly bear the trace of obsolete medical ideas, where one finds “the ferrous pulse of abandoned anatomies.” But the most important influence throughout the book turns out to be Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. Whereas Baudelaire’s iconic text rendered the modern city in corporeal terms, Legris performs the inverse, making the human body into a vast terrain. Pleasurably unsettling or unsettlingly pleasurable, readers traversing the “Mangrove glands” of Legris’s “cold and gluey metropolis” should steel themselves for “A sea-laced epidermal./ A pore map of blisters./ An integumentary ocean floor of unnavigable sores.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/15/2016
Release date: 09/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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