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Paisley Rekdal: Animal Eye

Animal Eye is the fourth collection from American poet Paisley Rekdal. As the title suggests, these poems frequently draw upon animals as conceits in order to make complex statements about life and love. This is some of the most thematically complex contemporary poetry I have encountered; Rekdal juggles multiple themes and ideas in each one of these poems, all while utilizing complex metaphors and formal experimentation.

As stated before, love and romance are major themes in Animal Eye. Two of my personal favorite pieces in the book deal with them directly. “Flowers from a New Love after the Divorce” uses flowers a means to explore both the positive and negative complexities of romantic affection. The thematically similar “Intimacy” features some of my favorite lines in the book:

People should keep their hands to themselves

for the remainder of the flight: who needs
some stranger’s waistline, joint problems,

or insecurities? Darling,
what I love in you I pray will always stay

the hell away from me.

I find that to be such a concise and brilliant examination of the difficulties of a relationship.

A large portion of the book consists of the long poem “Wax,” a dizzying exploration of terminal illness through the conceit of a wax museum. It’s a disturbing and moving piece, as exemplified by these lines:

Look how the wax imbibes our novelty and richness.
It takes on some of our power as well, the blood paint
of the Christ statue seeming
to run, to swell. For centuries they argued

how to divide him, man or God, till Calenzouli shaped
a wax man’s head then split the face
to find it: scalp flayed over the intact portion of his crown, flesh halo
where the passive grey eyes flicker and the stripped muscles gleam.

This is a courageous and strikingly macabre way of examining illness.

Although some of the poems in Animal Eye seem to get away from themselves at points (some attempt to combine a few too many complicated images and metaphors), the book remains a fascinating and compelling exploration of emotionally resonant issues. Rekdal is able to translate her own personal experience into universal statements about nature, romance, and maturity, and many of these statements manage to be deep and moving.

– Anthony Hagen

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