Escaping the Body by Chloe N. Clark (Interstellar Flight Press 2022)
Reviewed by Sarena Brown
When I first picked up Chloe N. Clark’s latest poetry collection, Escaping The Body, I was expecting a book full of anxiety and dissociation. What I found was a book that was much more embodied than that, which wove between images as expansive as the universe and as definitive as lichen-covered rocks. While the title puts pressure on the body, this book always returns to it. Clark makes an argument that the body is (dis)connected to the soul and a site of many dichotomies; that of pleasure and pain, humanity and the natural world, robots and men, the knowable and the unknown, and more. Even magic finds a home in this book. The text is broken up into 5 sections, all named after magic tricks with epigraphs from magicians. It pairs with the mystical and mythical elements to these poems, drawing up images of palm readings, escape artists, and women turning into trees.
What struck me most about Clark’s work was how it was bursting with questions. In the first poem, “Questions We Ask for the Girls Turned to Limbs,” the speaker asks question after question after question and never lets up. The impact is a kind of narrowing focus as the questions ebb and flow between the assumed gendered violence and its aftereffects.
“Do you remember the hands of men? How they pressed / into your skin until red blossomed / across the surface? / How their intentions left / patterns on your body? / … Do you remember how fast / the ones you loved gave up looking / for you?”
This battering of questions is echoed in “Missing Girl Found—” when the speaker imagines countless possibilities for discovering a missing girl. All of these imaginings, I think, are an attempt to understand how violence against women can exist in a world with incredible things like hammerhead sharks and mothers and thousand-year-old root systems.
For me, the last two sections, “Conjuring Orange Trees” and “Cabinet Escape Tricks,” were the most impactful. These sections return to the natural world, asking the reader to consider what it is to consume nature while, eventually, it consumes you. In this way Clark gets at the fragile and ephemeral qualities of the body. As In “& Other Ways to Read the Dirt,” where the speaker asks “What have we done to one another? / What grievances have we let seep / into the soil, we dig our fingers / into the ground as if we wish to / tear out our own hair by the roots.” See how the body is all entangled with roots and mud? See grievance (defined as “a wrong considered as grounds for complaint”) and how earth is inherent? See how it settles into the soil as it unsettles the self? Clark also talks about reading the dirt, alluding to reading fortunes from our hands, tying it back to the world of magicians and seers and magic.
Escaping The Body is long for a poetry collection, spanning over 100 pages. At times this book felt repetitive, but I think that’s the point. Nature, like grief, has its own cycles, planets have their own orbits, and memory keeps shifting, changing a little each time you return to it.