Flesh and Paper
Ellen Pilon is a library assistant in the Patrick Power Library at Saint
Mary’s University in Halifax.
So often with a book of poems, the introduction, written by a poet, spoils the effect of the poems with its strident message. Perhaps poets sometimes feel the point or message of their poems will be missed unless they baldly reinforce it in prose. Flesh and Paper is an example. The poets attempt a lesbian context in their introduction which immediately discourages non-lesbians from turning the pages to sample the poems. The book is by lesbians for lesbians and offers little of interest to those of us not included in the sisterhood. It is unfortunate because some of the poems, especially “Narrative distance,” “Be a dolphin then,” and “Further notes:” are extremely good.
This is a short book of 48 poems arranged in 5sections. Whose poems are whose is not explained, presumably because, as the jacket announces, the poems “are a dialogue between two women who write to, for and with each other, as friends, poets, lesbians and lovers. The two voices shape a universe in which the lesbian consciousness is central.” Unfortunately the poets do not discuss this aspect of their work in the introduction. It is an interesting experiment in style but the result is raw, choppy and unpolished. Although the subject of pairs and series of poems are similar, the myths, styles, references, images are so different that the result is not union but disharmony.
The poets’ words assert how proud they are to be lesbian, but the emotions emerging from the poems suggest something quite different: fear, uncertainty, lack of confidence, awareness of being watched by each other and outsiders. One positive force which successfully endures, however, is an unhesitating dedication to each other. It is refreshing to read love poems which do not ultimately degenerate into bitter invective.