Praxis Magazine Online is honored to present the sixth chapbook in our 2019/2020 Poetry Chapbook Series selected by JK Anowe: The Anatomy of Melancholy by Abigail George. Read the Foreword from D.E. Benson here, then download and read The Anatomy of Melancholy.
The universe of Abigail George’s poetry is dipped and preserved in winter, so you can be forgiven for thinking that the mention of summer in the very first line of the collection sets the context. Well, yes, in a way, if you consider that the poet persona only recognizes it as an anomaly, one that requires a cure: I glide and float away thinking to myself/ of a cure to the warmth of the day. This is the world this chapbook invites you into.
The Anatomy of Melancholy inspires a perception of existence that revels in that loneliness within us all, even if we are always surrounded by a crowd of forces shaping and interacting with our experience of it. It is this that makes the reader privy to the tangible and intangible pains that litter the consciousness of this collection. In this world, of which the poet declares, I don’t believe in hours anymore, time is defined by an urgency to immediately historicize each moment that flies by; moments that move without break from the visceral to the temporal; from odes to elegies; from heartbreak to falling in love. It’s an unpredictable story swinging between pain and death and loss and love and flesh and bone and ice and desire, all the while told through a consistent stream-of-consciousness, and understandably so, because as we learn in “The woman that was a starling,” life through a bipolar lens is a mosaic.
A motif you will encounter in this chap is that of flesh and bone and how both elements of the human body composition seem to interact, sometimes in tandem, with a unity of purpose—Flesh unto bone melting into thin air—and sometimes in opposition—In an instant I was/ flesh against bone, infirm and weak—a pattern symbolic of the polarity that defines the collection. On one occasion the motif occurs in proximity with the word “prize,” in a way that leaves one with a tragic sense of fate as we see in these lines from “Stern curator of the ghost museum”: The kitchen sink is/ my mother’s wasteland. It is her politics, her flesh,/ her prize. She rolls deep in her garden.
You may discover, like I did, that how The Anatomy of Melancholy excels is by continuously giving. There is something new to discover every time you come back to it—a hallmark of art. It is drunk on its own journey; joyously drunk on its own language. To engage with it is to undertake the same journey into a world it articulates as beautifully-painful, and indeed into the poet’s head, a place which is succinctly described in “Not somebody’s wife”: Inside the poet’s head lies a multitude/ of unexplored supernatural links to the experimental.”
D. E. Benson is a literary critic, editor and poet.