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Mindfulness is the goal of Rachel Tobin’s Say It Naked. If there were any form to use to feel out the present and sit with it, it’s in the endless moment of poetry; the snapshots that pull you close. ‘Autumn, Waitaruke’ encapsulates this desire to appreciate what makes up the world around us, ‘A thin bronzed morning, / undressing. // A folded body, / a hill.’ Tobin takes the world and pushes it through thousands of bodies, the closeness of the body throughout the book is one of the things that makes it so engaging.
The narrative track of Say It Naked reflects life drawing, the nervous energy of committing a stranger’s body to the page, or the nervous patience of being that persons who is drawn.
Speaking of bodies, throughout the collection Tobin’s own drawings punctuate the collection, strange bodies vulnerable bodies, she undresses us all and finds beauty in that open display, there is no Biblical shame here. There are worlds in these expressive images, as there are worlds held in the poems. There is a stretching out, a curiosity that of course lands on the political. The poem ‘On the behalf of…’ stabs with efficiency and empathy, Tobin uses personification to evoke the horrors of global warming;
I heard the Ross Sea is getting acid,
though it never asked for a trip.
I heard today the shells of molluscs
making a living there are dissolving.
The humour here stings with a precise efficiency. Another aspect of her writing I really love is the way she can get into those small moments; these quiet spaces become a quilt to wrap yourself in. One of my favourite poems from the collection would have to be the poem On waking, a crystalline study of intimacy;
My voice is cut husk and diamond; your heart
unrolls like bedding when I sing.
My eyes unruffled water; I gaze in the face
of your unrest, and see a sun, nesting.
My hand is dappled silk and litmus; it knows
at first touch, the animal crouched inside your heart.
It follows on like this details that perspire on the skin and leave the mouth in breathless shuffles. We are all bodies throbbing and pulsing inside a dying world, trying to avoid the baton, trying to find a laugh, trying to find a moment, trying to find each other. These lines from the last poem in the collection really underline what Tobin is doing with these poems;
A dog barks.
A man walks past.
The smell of a sewer rides on the wind.
The day is an open heart.
Say It Naked is heart at it’s most open.
reviewed by essa may ranapiri
Say It Naked
by Rachel Tobin
Published by Makaro Press