The Other Body, Flo Reynolds
Illustrated by Phyllida Bluemel
Guillemot Press, 2021 £10.00
The nature of bodies
The white cat showed me the way in. Even though there had been pointers (the first poem is called ‘Hello Stranger’ and introduces the woods, beloved in folk and fairy tale, as a place to explore the self), it was hard to find the entrance. Was I scared? ‘Queer as trees is the self’ says the poet in ‘Hello Stranger’, and then goes forward to write herself into nature, into one of the selves of nature.
In ‘Assemblage’ the poet vows ‘I shall know thee through ghosts of other bodies’. These are natural, scientific bodies, but the reader feels (at times uncomfortably) as if it’s their own body, too. The ‘you’ of ‘Hello Stranger’ becomes the ‘stranger of clay and cloth’, attempting to love — to make love, to construct it and examine it — in the forest. Doing so, the poet draws the reader (‘you’) into her poetic ‘I’; acknowledges the reader as an other, necessary, body.
The white cat observes everything. The white cat encounters ‘intimacy / up there / under the skirt of god’ (‘Assemblage’) which echoes this divinity and casts ‘god’ as a (female?) body in skirts. ‘Chaos marks the white cat’s wake’, the poet asserts, and shapelessness echoes in the lack of page numbers here, in the lack of conventional punctuation, in the beautiful art of decay.
I finally understood that these poems reveal love, divine and personal, when I read
the white cat saunters through the garden of mother julian
the parasites of the white cat saunter through the body of the white cat
the world’s taste is of white hot ash
It is also bloody, as acknowledged in part ii of ‘The Other Body’, with its fruiting body and ‘scarlet elf cup’ strongly implying the moon cup of menstruation, that witness of fruitfulness.
When at last (in ‘The Other Body’) the poet begins to write, she ‘waver[s] into composition / am in ribbons // thread this body / another bead’. In this way, she writes her self into the physical, casts bodies as dewdrops on spiderwebs.
But in one respect she lies. She never wavers.
This is an assured, knowledgeable body of work.