The first time I read a poem by Paige Lewis, I was captivated by their voice—particularly its ability to carry a reader through jarring, surreal images with absolute clarity. Strange things often happen to time, space, and the body in Lewis’s poems, so their direct, accessible voice becomes a necessary grounding force—and yet music and freshness are never sacrificed for this accessibility.
Though the following two poems are formally different, they both put Lewis’s surreal aesthetic to work on the human body. In “Diorama of Heat,” formal compression underscores the tension and play between the mundane (“it’s too hot to do anything”) and the bizarre (“sheep kick off their fleece”) as layers of internal and external experience begin to overlap. The body, as barrier and bridge between inner and outer spaces, is the site of this strange and exciting overlap–both in “Diorama of Heat” and in the next poem, “Museum of Your Faulty Body,” which inverts the internal and external worlds more directly. In this poem, the space of the world doesn’t just overlap with the individual space of the body, but subsumes it. Emotions and physiological reactions are exposed like skin, like a wound: “Over the intercom, / a recording of your mother asks You often lose control / of yourself when crying, don’t you?” The private self becomes a public space we must learn to navigate—and in doing so, we risk vulnerability.
What I love most about Lewis’s work is that is offers these new (and not always comfortable) ways of placing the body in familiar spaces—and thus, new ways of understanding how our bodies can exist and move through the world.
Read “Diorama of Heat” >>