“How do I start?” Chris Tysh opens “A, as in Annie, ante builder,” the first poem in her A-Z book of sensual cinematic verses, with a question that precedes the text itself.
Throughout Cleavage, the poet is present, talking herself through the writing process or coaching her line-up of 26 lipsticked exiles and femme fatales: Brigitte, Celine, Desiree, Eva, Fanny, Gigi, et al. Wide-eyed, manic and impassioned, she navigates the perilous and violent halls of her own poetic imagination with courage, cutting empathy and a wry smile.
To say that Tysh celebrates the female form and makes feminist statements in her poems would be technically true. But it would be esthetically and philosophically inadequate. She enacts the feminine within language and confronts its beautiful yet elusive and destructive powers.
In “Eva, 11:00 PM,” she warns: “Sooner or later the whole stratagem behind the book/ of seductions goes up in flames.”
Erudite, sublime and cinched with high to low cultural references, each poem radiates a kind of gorgeous linguistic courage. Picture a vigilante warrior balanced on a single stiletto heel.
According to the book’s epigraph by Maurice Blanchot, “ruined invisibly by the silence that cleaves to language,” Cleavage is a silence, a space, a disembodied spirit that requires a metaphor or form to occupy. And what could be more fitting than “Hannah, handcuffed,” “Kate’s Karma” or “Phoebe and the phantoms”?
Contrary to the light
held in her name
bowed phaeton now idle
a shadow hangs all over the place
paternal plot that goes
for the teeth under the axe
Cleavage is an ever-changing absence. It is the back-lit undressing of the provocateur, and a meditation on bondage and possession. It is a lush moving picture of language as lover, language as mother, and dissenter as object of desire.
In “Gigi, night goalie,” Tysh writes:
I want to suggest an errant text that levels the field
a briefcase at each end and no more monkey in the middle
torn panties under pitch meetings
Whether subconscious “mistake” or Jungian dreaming, this collection leaves us proof that there is a wrong kind of right and a right kind of wrong. And the moral and intellectual pain of their crisscrossing contradictions can change the shape of our world view.
In the event that my romance with American
idiom turns idée fixe a hang-up one sees
from the solarium you will pull me aside
— “I who am the “other woman” —
Standing next to disaster in a string bikini
and send me packing
(“Fanny, at the finish line”)
With all of its linguistic sophistication, sprawling metaphors and sexually charged meta-feminism, Cleavage is a glorious piece of writing. It means to expound, explore and to find redemption in the esthetics of error. Tysh entertains, educates and inspires, one voluptuous redefined sex symbol at a time.
Norene Cashen is a poet, editor and arts journalist. Her poetry has appeared in Dispatch Detroit; Abandon Automobile: Detroit City Poets 2001 (Wayne State University Press); Gender-F Online Arts Project; www.markszine.com; www.thedetroiter.com and other publications. She has published comments and reviews about poetry in An Invitation To Poetry (Robert Pinsky’s Poetry Project) and The Metro Times (Detroit). Norene is the contributing editor for the arts journal Dispatch Detroit. Her reviews and articles have appeared in many publications across the US. She lives and works in Michigan.
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