A review of Designs on the Body by Lyn Reeves

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Designs on the Body
By Lyn Reeves
Interactive Press
ISBN 9781921479717, Sept 2010, Paperback, 84 pgs

Reading Lyn Reeves’ Designs on the Body immediately brings to mind the condition of Synesthesia. There’s a cognative power here as we move between the senses, mingling touch with sound, sight, scent into an instant hit that puts the reader directly into the scene. The poems are all, in one way or another, grounded in the physical world of immediate sensation, at the same time they are infused with affect. a number of the poems deal with motherhood in one form or another: that painful, instinctual drive to care:

If smell is primal sense

I want his memories to be

milk and honey and spice.

I want to rub away the cold

odour of a glass crib, the bland

steel instruments, the meaty

pungency of blood. (“Primal Sense”)

ew parts of the body are left undiscovered in these poems: from the breasts and youthful vertebrae that open the book to hazy aging full body image that closes it. There are tanned shoulders and white gloved arms, cheeks, lips, fingers and toes, skin, ribcages and the spine.

Not only is the human body mapped and traversed in these poems, but also the natural world, in some cases anthropomorphically transformed from the inanimate to the animate through rich metaphor–the sea bearing down in the birthing of a pear or jade growing and breathing in the earth:

I prefer to wander the craggy summits

with the mad poets of old, drinking wine,

listening to the sound jade makes as it grows

in the heart of the rock, breathing the mist

it releases when the sun’s rays

stroke the mountain’s flank. (“Jewel of Heaven”)

At the same time, the human is also transfigured. A man becomes a book – “He wears her words/

stained on his flesh”, while a woman becomes a shark, a flower or a fish:

She glides and circles

slowly, a fat brocaded flower

shimmering in her orbit

of dark water where she swirls

with the urgent flash of dreams. (“Koi”)

There are so many evocative images, and yet the poetry never becomes heavy or overwrought even as the metaphors mingle. The senses are evoked in each poem through the use of objects like gems: jade, jet, agate, pearls, amber, garnet, coral, Lapis Lazuli – each conjuring a visual through colour and texture. There are flowers and leaves: peonies, weeping cherries, grevillea, rhododendron, Frangapani, moonflowers, hollyhocks, and wattle. There is scent: musk, eucalypt, tea tree, sandalwood and incense sticks. There is sound: “the timpani of wave swirl”, the sound of chopper blades and motors, guitar strains, bird song, wing beats and tremolos. The senses are not only invoked, but mingled in such a way that the metaphors combine and grow, illuminating each moment presented in a full body experience. By the end of this book the reader feels drained, enlivened, wiser somehow, as if a full live had been lived between its pages. This is a lovely, powerful, and understated poetry book that explores every sense of the body – taking an experiential approach to illuminating what it means to be alive, to feel joy and pain, to experience loss and to find pleasure. Designs on the Body is a book that rewards repeated reading and deep reflection.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup. She runs a monthly radio show The Compulsive Reader Talks, and Lyn Reeves is our next guest.

Article first published as Book Review: Designs on the Body by Lyn Reeves on Blogcritics.