Review of “The Anatomist” by Taryn Schwilling

In Taryn Schwilling’s book of poetry The Anatomist, the desire for the body and the desire for knowledge of the body dominate her collection of poems. The detailed descriptions of the human body, as well as graphic descriptions of the bodies of animals in the section “Meats,” sensualize and romanticize parts of the body that are often seen as repulsing. The Anatomist is a must read with its unique writing style, and gripping, forceful imagery.

The erotic descriptions that permeate Schwilling’s poetry are seen in the collection “Hyster,” in the first section: “Venus rises on her pink shell/ Stem Swell upward and out”. Using Venus, the Roman goddess love and sexuality, Schwilling introduces her main subject- the female body. By focusing on Venus and the act of her rising from the ocean, Schwilling creates a sensual tone, making every aspect of the female body beautifully poetic. The diction used in this first section describing Venus rising from the ocean is sensual, with the repetition the word “swell,” which Schwilling uses throughout “Hyster” either as an illusion to a sexual organ or to a general sense of sexuality. In the ninth section of “Hyster,” she writes: “your appealing emptiness/ her slim his swell/ reminiscent promenade”. The “slim” and “swell” mentioned represent the different sexual organs of a man and woman, with the illusion to the sexual act seen in the combination of these two in the last few lines of the poem. In this poem the sexual act is not explicit, but rather the language Schwilling uses leaves the reader wrapped up the lyrical sound of the poem and unique diction, giving the sexual act and the sexual organs themselves these same qualities, making them a beautiful essential part to the poem.

Schwilling’s poetry appeals to the senses in way that is truly remarkable. The section “Meat,” features descriptions that project clear images and are hard to forget. The descriptions of the different animals and how they are butchered are detailed, leaving a clear image in the mind, however the descriptions play a specific function as parallels to the female body. Schwilling uses the various animal descriptions as a metaphor for the objectification of the female body, which is made more impactful with the gripping imagery of animals being slaughtered. In “A Vision of St. Eustace,” the speaker creates an artificial woman, with specific features: “Arrange the skin Grecian. I’m contemporary & you’re human. So lifelike. Arsenic soap or salt or alum. Your new museum eyes. Sewn up, splitting forth”. In the creation of this artificial female body, the poet shows the physical expectations society places upon women, and how only a man-made, artificial being could live up to every physical aspect society places upon women. Words like “soap,” “salt,” “sewn,” and “splitting” all have the same sound that the beginning creating a an almost robotic, artificial, like sound when combined with the short sentences.

The punctuation and line spacing Schwilling uses throughout her poems, is interesting in that punctuation is often not used or hardly used at all in certain sections, instead she uses larger spaces between words to show a change in thought. While this writing style does increase the tone in some poems, it can make the flow hard to follow, and the meaning elusive at times. The lack of punctuation can be seen in first stanza of the poem “Eris”: “She is laid out supplicant/ in a posture the opposite of/ feral heaviness”. The quote shows not only the lack of punctuation, but also the unique spacing, seen between “feral” and “heaviness” and between “posture” and “the.” While the spacing functions as a kind of punctuation, in that it forces the reader to pause, it can also be difficult to follow.

The Anatomist presents the female body in a uniquely poetic light, using every part of the body to create a story with sensual imagery that is hard to ignore or forget. Schwilling challenges the way society portrays only certain aspects of the female body as beautiful, and uses brilliant metaphors to show the unrealistic and dangerous beauty standards placed on women. By making aspects of the female body, like the womb, beautiful and brilliant, Schwilling works against the notion that a woman’s reproduction organs are gross and not something beautiful.

taryn-schwillingAbout the Author: Taryn Schwilling is a recipient of a Fulbright grant. Has recently lived, taught, and conducted research in Cambodia and Iraq. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Boise State University, Taryn is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Denver

About the Author of this Post: Madison Rehovsky is a senior at North Central College majoring in English Studies and History. She loves reading, drinking coffee, and collecting old books. She plans to move back to Minnesota to pursue a career in publishing or museum work.