book review

Blythe Baird explores hunger in her new poetry collection, ‘If My Body Could Speak’

Title: If My Body Could Speak
Author: Blythe Baird
Genre: Poetry
Publisher: Button Poetry
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 104 p
Publishing Date05 February 2019

“if you develop an eating disorder
when you are not thin to begin with,


you are a success story.”
WHEN THE FAT GIRL GETS SKINNY

Hunger is at the heart of Blythe Baird’s brutally honest and painful collection of poetry. Starting with “WHEN THE FAT GIRL GETS SKINNY”, we’re pulled into the reality of living in recovery, not just from the eating disorder Baird struggles with throughout much of the collection, but recovery from what it is to be a woman today. The idea that you can simultaneously be too much and not enough is an undercurrent throughout the body of her work: too much, when she wants to be open and honest about her sexuality and rape but not enough to fit in with the cool girls and “feminist bros” that, while personified in the academic experience.

Baird’s “too much” is explored deeply in poems like “DRESS CODE, a pantoum”, which details the hypocrisy of school dress codes and how quickly a girl’s body develops (a say girl, as the experience is happening when the narrator is 11 years old) determines when she is free for public consumption. That we sexualize girls as soon as they develop bodies that align with what a “woman” should look like (breasts and hips, but not too much of either) while simultaneously warning them that boys are dangerous robs girls of their childhood. Of their education. She is too much because an adult is telling her she is too much — that her body needs covering up, that it poses a threat.

 

“When she apologizes for the fact
he owns the only spare set of keys to her heart,

I assure her it is
no problem.”
THE KINDEST THING SHE ALMOST DID

Shifting to not being enough, Baird uses experiences with love and sexuality. In “THE KINDEST THING SHE ALMOST DID”, a familiar battle with trying to figure out how to make a partner happy is fought. No matter what she does, Baird knows she’s not enough for this lover. But she keeps trying and trying and trying, trying to change into something else — something more — that she’ll be enough for this woman. She hungers for love, is starving for it, now that she’s accepted her sexuality, has been recovering from her eating disorder, can love fully and freely. But not everyone is as accepting of love as she is.

And this is part of the larger message I felt Baird was relaying in this collection. We can, by ourselves, own our trauma and recovery. We can learn to live with the ghosts that haunt us. But it doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is ready to hear our truths. That the world doesn’t want another slam poet on stage talking about rape, like in “YET ANOTHER RAPE POEM”, but that should silence you.

“But when I talk about my trauma,
I am not asking you to carry it

or relieve me from it. I am just asking
for it not to be too heavy for a conversation.”

YET ANOTHER RAPE POEM

As someone working tirelessly to come through my trauma, If My Body Could Speak not only made me feel seen, but also inspired me to find my voice. It doesn’t matter if I’m too much or not enough for someone, and it’s okay to feel that hurt loudly. Feeling is as much part of recovery is turning off the calorie calculator in your head is. Fans of Amanda Lovelace and Sabrina Benaim will find pieces of themselves reflected back in Baird’s poetry.

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