Book Reviews | Literary Arts

Paisley Rekdal’s Animal Eye

We are pleased to announced that Paisley Rekdal’s Animal Eye, from the University of Pittsburgh Press, has been selected for the 2013 15 Bytes Book Award in Poetry. Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s But a Storm Is Blowing From Paradise by Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, published by Red Hen Press,  and House Under the Moon by Michael Sowder, published by Truman State University Press, were finalists for the award.



Violence and Warmth


Paisley Rekdal’s Animal Eye is one of the only books of poetry I devour compulsively in one sitting. After three poems, I nod: So that’s why she won the Rilke. (The Rilke is one of the most coveted poetry prizes around; only two years old, it comes with a $10,000 pat on the back.) I turn the page and have the same experience: it’s another unexpected ending, another graceful collusion of violence and warmth.

Rekdal doesn’t have her nose in the air. She spins the colloquial and the elegant, the “shit and the satin,” and I revel in the fierce pleasure her speaker feels being outwitted by a horse and turned to by a lover.

Her poems are powerful for their juxtaposition. In Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum we rubber-neck the living dead and grin at an epitaph, “Passenger, . . . lament not his fate, / for were he living, / thou would’st be dead.” But sprinkled throughout the wax images, Rekdal leads us into an exam room where her mother is undressed, and nobody is joking anymore “about the pesticides her father used, little silver canister / swinging at his hip.” The surgery goes poorly. Cancer blossoms on the x-ray “like a Japanese lotus in a dish of water,” and we’re wrought by the return of the earlier address: “Passenger: / I had no idea what it meant, / lingering alone, black-eyed in doorways—”

In one of my favorite poems, her oft-silent grandfather returns in a dream. After his passing, Rekdal was stunned to discover his journals of fluent Chinese and English. But even in her dream he’s voiceless, instead pressing to her “a box / filled with stamps torn off missives from Taiwan / and Russia, Denmark, Sweden, each one faded / yet folded carefully up, some in onionskin,” as though the remnant of communication could ever stand in for the real thing. “Why did he believe such minutiae needed preserving?” she asks, and in her dream the loss echoes.

Despite these griefs, despite the dying salmon and gutted caribou, her poetry is vibrant, exciting, and full of pleasure. And not in a bleeding heart way. There’s true ambivalence here. To Levi Rubeck of BOMBLOG she said, “I’m as attracted to the discomfiting as I am to the beautiful, which is part of our experience of the sublime anyway, isn’t it?”

In “Arctic Scale,” “oil rigs dip their certain needles / and the Inuit women’s breast milk has been declared / hazardous waste.” Yet in the very next stanza Rekdal declares, “It’s so beautiful here. Here is a wall-sized field of green / with patches of corn silk. Here is a miraculous range / seamed with what I have to be told is coal, / the enormous, glassy sea chattering its blue / to the sky, the glacier clasped between them / quietly disappearing.”

In her email exchange with Rubeck she says romanticizing landscape doesn’t serve us. “There was a wonderful piece in the New York Times recently about the BLM in Utah, and the fact that the community of Vernal wanted to rake in all this oil money from drilling but, to their great surprise, realized that they now had the second worst air quality in the U.S. from its effects on the ozone. It’s not enough to see the natural world as simply beautiful, or simply damaged, or simply an economic opportunity. The sad thing is, the natural world is all these things to us now, and advocating for it means we have to discuss—and see—the uglier ‘meanings’ it has for us.”

While the complexity of her voice falters in a few of the last poems, Rekdal’s collection is a stunning and hungry portal into intimacy. We are the animal in Animal Eye, trying to see, attempting to understand, and turning to the physical for comfort.

Animal Eye by Paisley Rekdal
University of Pittsburgh Press (February 2012)
96 pages

About the Author
Paisley Rekdal is associate professor of English at the University of Utah. She is the author of three previous poetry collections: The Invention of the Kaleidoscope, A Crash of Rhinos, and Six Girls Without Pants, as well as a book of essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee. She is the recipient of the Village Voice Writers on the Verge Award, the University of Georgia Press Contemporary Poetry Series Award, an NEA Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, the Laurence Goldstein Poetry Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review, and the 2011–2012 Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship. Learn more about the author at her website:


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