A review of Fabric by Jessica Bell

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Fabric
by Jessica Bell
2012, ISBN-13: 978-1475168549

In Julia Kristeva’s New Maladies of the Soul, a question is posed about the relationship between the body and the mind; biology and representation. Kristeva suggests that it is in the play between an essentially female politic, emotional/physical pain, physical desire, and perception, where new meaning is created. This is the landscape of Jessica Bell’s Fabric, a forthcoming collection of poetry. The book explores multiple identities and perspectives, some soft and maternal, and others harsh and vindictive. All of the poems go deep into the heart of emotion, charting a story of disappointment, longing, betrayal with a multi-sensual approach: seeing with fingers, knitting regret, and swallowing regret with pride.

Jessica Bell pulls no punches with her words that always seek to strip off surface veneer, sometimes literally, as in “Bandages”:

Undress.

I want to see how you tear;

how She mummified

your intangible life. (14)

The book is divided into four parts, each with seven poems, pivoting around the themes of “me,” “you,” “us,” and “them.” The tone of each section is slightly different, driven by the seven haiku, set sideways on the seven windows that precede each section.

Though written for English speakers, the poems are enriched by Greek words of endearment and respect like Yiayia and Papou (Grandma and Grandpa), of place – Monemvasia, of mythology – Euterpe, Echo and Narcissus and Athena, of scent and flavour with thick Greek coffee and Halva, and even of sarcasm and humour with Malaka (jerk). The book ends with an appendix that defines and clarifies the Greek words.

The more bittter poems hinge on relationships such as the sting in “Goat Skin Beer Holder”:

You smack your lips

to the rhythms you chew

and sniff your snot

like leftovers. (18)

or on poor parenting, such as disgust that underpins “Not Who I Thought You Were”, the self-defeating rage of “Flesh”, the moment’s pause in “Postpartum”, or the twisted regret of “Mama’s Confession”:

The old maid’s weapons

are blunt; brittle—painted

with layers and layers of pearl (7)

Not all of the poems in Fabric are angry. Some of best poems in the collection are tender: nostalgia mingling with regret. There were be few readers who couldn’t relate to that sense of loss that underscores “Mustard”:

You winked.

Your needles clicked.

But I saw scorn

and squinted at you,

sucking my tongue

to the roof

of my mouth,

thinking

you were trying

to outdo my knitting skills.

You were dying.

You didn’t tell me. (16)

Similarly, a grandmother’s home-made halva creates a Proustian series of images that drive the reader towards the immortality of DNA, love and care:

Every day I’d watch

you press baked almonds

into the squishy centers

of the diamond-shaped

brown sweets.

You were granting them hearts.

And that’s when you’d bring out the sugar.

And a sieve.

And sprinkle your name all over my world. (12)

Jessica Bell’s Fabric is a rich collection of poems that take the reader on a deep tour of the psyche. Charting and moving across a politic of language, Bell explores love, pain, failure and redemption from a variety of angles. Most of the poems sit at the fragile threshold of instinct and meaning, using symbol and sensation to get to the shock of denouement. This is a significant collection that bears multiple readings, each time yielding something fresh.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the newly released novel Black Cow. Grab a free mini e-book brochure: here. For more about Magdalena visit: www.magdalenaball.com.

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