38 pages, $14
Review by Jen Lambert
One of the things I admire most about poetry is that sometimes what’s not on the page is what’s most important. This vacancy is like an invitation in to the intimate space of self-interpretation, and it speaks volumes about the poet’s trust in her readers.
Intimates and Fools, a collaborative art and poetry book by Laura Madeline Wiseman and Sally Deskins, dedicated to the sometimes complicated female relationship with the bra, is the antithesis of vacant. Deskins’s own art, colorful sketches and body prints, unapologetically splash across the page in bright strokes while Wiseman’s handwritten prose snakes up and around, balancing and accompanying the art. The white space and sparse font that usually turns me on is clearly abused in this collection, but nonetheless, I found myself intrigued. This book required a different kind of poetic experience than which I’ve grown accustomed. It made me want to linger, to touch the page, run my hands across the color and script. It was more of an experience than just interpretation. The poems themselves were artistic, relying on a loopy longhand font, which at first I found distracting, but ultimately I grew to admire its comforting lines, personal and familiar. This collection has been called playful, fun, a “table top” book of color and tongue in cheek commentary on feminism, and while the premise is lively and energetic, even a bit feisty, I think it would be a shame not to recognize its deeply contemplative side as well. While the pages of this collection are full – Deskins’s brushstrokes and Wiseman’s stanzas crowd up against each other on every page – it’s what’s just under the busy surface that’s most appealing: the wildly complex social constructs of female body, and the symbol of the bra as the ultimate carrier of all things female: shame, sexuality, strength.
The descriptions of the bra swing back and forth from new and flirty,
dimple cheeked and shiny… satin loops of ribbons and bows… cotton candy pink schoolgirl lace
to worn and aging,
They’re discolored, snagged…You’re too old, I say, to hold up anything
For years, I hung them on a line
to dribble over the bath. Wet
and slack, they swayed with hope
to uncomfortable and embarrassing,
At thirteen, my aunt endowed me with her old bras, dozens of 36Cs… In the laundry room I used scissors. I didn’t need those manmade smiles,
You make the wall jealous, I used to say to my sister.
Things said to me: Look at the white girl with the big tits.
This pendulum swing seems to symbolize the complicated relationships women have with their own bodies, which is emphasized through the repeated use of the persona of the fool. In one section, we see the bra referred to as a foolish contraption that will ultimately be discarded as it ages, much like the female figure it seems to be alluding to.
Bras are fools. Wired in lace and padded in memory foam,
they attempt to distribute
the weight of what we bare –
a daughter’s hard knots,
an aunt’s jiggling shelf,
a mother’s slack Cs in a teddy,
a sister’s third nipple, witch’s teat.
silk bloom fades
we’re taught to
let them go.
The word fool shows up again in a stanza discussing the invention of the bra:
It was the flappers who invented bras – Mrs. Wilson’s broken nose, Daisy’s green light, women buoyed up on couches in fans and breeze, saying, that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.
We also see it when mentioning a line from a Judy Grahn poem in which Grahn pushes against the social definitions of what it means to be a woman alternating back and forth between how she is seen and how she sees herself.
I’m not a fool, I’m a survivor
And again, in the final poem of the book, when the speaker is with her lover. Here we see the bra becoming a vehicle for intimacy, a clear redemption for a contraption designed to confine.
I’m a fool, you say as you nuzzle, fingering the racerback straps, thumbing the breathable black mesh, opening the silk rose with your tongue. There are no fools here, I say in a whisper, a prayer, a hope.
I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised with how the artists cleanly balanced color, humor, and whimsy with something as complex and convoluted as the contemporary female body. It’s not a simple task to attempt a unique perspective in a saturated ideology such as feminism, but Deskins and Wiseman are giving it a shot with this first collaboration, and I think they’ve hit their mark.
Jen Lambert is a founding editor of burntdistrict and Spark Wheel Press, and her work has been published in a variety of journals and anthologies including most recently The Los Angeles Review, Boxcar Poetry Review, and Raleigh Review. A fellow at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Jen is currently living in Newfoundland with her husband and three wildly beautiful children.