Behind the Titles: A Closer Look
at Let the Body Beg, an poetry collection by Tara Shea Burke
Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Ariana D. Den Bleyker
What were your favorite poems? What were your least favorite? Did you sense an overall theme, or was it more fun to look at the poems individually for you?
I can’t particularly say I had any favorite over less favorite piece in the collection, as I was drawn to the entire collection when choosing to accept it for publication with ELJ. If I were forced, though, by your hands, to chose a favorite, I would definitely pick “A Red Lace Bra Creates Heat.”
As both the editor and reader who ultimately selected the manuscript, I will say it was the overall theme I was drawn to, particularly on a personal level. While it appears the collection goes in and out of theme, a mix of self, feminism and sex, I feel if you look closer, all of the pieces capture the body in various forms in addition to many, many other pivotal themes.
I loved “First Crush: The Letter.” It was so honest. I felt like I was back in middle school, and I felt all the dread of that letter. Simple, but powerful. Those kind are my favorite poems. I also loved, “Test.” I love the way the white space is used to mimic the whiteness of winter and the solitude of the narrator as she examines herself and realizes that the only thing she can believe in is the coldness she feels in her feet. The comparisons between not believing but knowing the religious catch phrases like walking on water worked really well as a contrast and added to the winter theme.
In considering “Test” and your thoughts on solitude and religious undertones, I agree this poem could present this way to a reader. However, for me, given the line “I’d rather walk on ice /than water,” speaks to something greater that exists within the narrator. For me, this line give preference to walking on ice rather than water. It seems as though it would seem the narrator would rather risk walking across ice both because it is safer yet dangerous, whereas water is seemingly both implausible and miracle-like which may or may not lead to drowning. This line seems to set a specific tone for the collection.
When I read the initial poem, “Hunger,” I felt opened up to emptiness, hunger, a sense of sensuality in hunger but feeding it seems wrong, as “[We’ll] still be hungry,” needing to “find new ways to feed…is hunger happy.” This notion continues into “Hungry Girls of America,” which imbues the emptiness with body image and eating disorder undertone. Throughout the entire collection there is consistent tension between emptiness and fullness.
I felt a little disappointed by “We are All About to Die.” This piece kind of feels different than the rest of the collection. As for a theme, I felt like this collection went in and out of theme. Some themes could be sex, developing a conscience, learning to accept oneself, and feminism. Do you have any to add to the list?
I really wasn’t disappointed with “We Are All About to Die,” though I can certainly see how this piece appears different than the rest of the collection, but given the theme in the collection, this piece, to me, fits perfectly into the hunger theme. It would seem the narrator feels most people share the feeling of being hungry, even if it is in a different way. This piece focuses on the consumption of material things whom never seem to fill themselves. The emptiness follows them even into death, where the hunger will persist in the flesh yearning for the dirt and trees.
Going back to my favorite, “A Red Lace Bra Creates Heat,” I feel this piece establishes the idea of feminism in the collection. Here we have both breasts that are sweet and dangerous, a heavy burden which may been viewed as liberating. Consider “these honey sacs, so heavy, almost natural, almost loose and free.” In fact, the reader revisits the image of honey over and over again, most notably in “Fall,” where honey is expected to “cool,” “change shape.” The narrator eats and “finally let[s] go.”
Overall, for me, this collection presents many inter-connected themes that led me to a resounding yes. From the duality of self in “Dear Patriarchy” to the cultivation of self in “Imagined Farms,” there’s a persistent ebb and flow of emptiness, hunger, sweetness, danger, skin, breasts, hearts, stomachs, hands, and innate pleasure.
Let the Body Beg takes the reader on a journey where one “can [find] beauty in cliches, in differences, in overlaps.” It’s a collection of desire, of hunger, of emptiness, of all three simultaneously competing and overlapping each other, which begs for the reader to “answer what [we’ve] been dying to ignore.”
It’s a really nice collection with lots of emotion. So many of these poems were so honest that they really hurt to read.