by Peter Baroth
In her book “What Space This Body” (Wind Publications, 2008), Philadelphia – area poet and educator J.C. Todd, in employing her stunning way with words, pulls out all stops to describe as richly and faithfully as possible woman’s relationship to man and the relationship of both to themselves, the world around them, and to nature in particular.
In the bracing opening poem, “Pissing,” Todd reveals many of the traits and techniques that serve her as a writer so well in this volume. In describing this essential fact of nature that her husband takes part in, she employs virtually all of the tools that are possible to use to render the apparently simple act of urination as something exquisite and inevitably connected to the web and miracle of life around it. Her arsenal is vast: A Whitmanesque love and appreciation of the natural, virile essence of men, a utilization of Greek and Roman mythology, physics, Freudian psychology, anthropology, and beautifully apt word choice to render a profound reverence for her beloved husband’s singular act.
All the words in this volume display a sensitivity and careful rendering which inextricably link humanity to its environment in a way that Adam and Eve must have been connected to their primordial garden. And, as Adam and Eve were namers, so Todd goes to the outer limits of language – and somehow almost beyond – to illustrate and bind together the world around her: The young and the mature, the land-dwelling and the things beneath the sea, sexual breath and the scent of flowers. Of course, this attempt may not always be pretty in any facile way, for in encountering this totality, we also encounter Death, such as the early death of a sister in the poem “Nightshade,” and the illness of a mother in “Remembering.” But her writing embraces a more transcendent sort of beauty by being as unabashed, unflinching, and inclusive as it is.
In overcoming even death and decay, there is the insuperable romantic desire in this work to link all things through time, space, and metaphor, whether it be “the buck in you…” (“Big Meadow”) or whether: “In the haze / we were stag, vole, weasel at work.” (“Foraging”). Here we are, gloriously merged with nature – or the generations – as we rut as the animals do. But what is at the core of this fusion? Todd stops at nothing to describe this totality of devouring and devotion: “Everything eating / eaten. The green wall opens and swallows. / Mouth on mouth, tongues delving deeper / than language…” (“Night Before Six Months of Rain”).
Yes, this very completeness is almost an orgy (or, perhaps, even a cannibalistic feast, as hinted at in “Returning You to Me”) of things describing things, and things standing in for other things, all pointing to some complete illumination. For in “Age of Enlightenment” Todd seems to state her understanding of the overarching goal of language and the nature that it describes and is in turn a part of: “I thought, This is what / Enlightenment is: / full illumination, sum- / total seen and foreseeable.”
Thus in Todd’s universe, we are, through our acts and life cycles, bound inescapably to the world, the future, and the past and we must only observe to find that there is a lesson to be learned in everything, everywhere. Hence, one only has to look, comprehend, and, as a poet, describe to engage oneself completely.
My only criticism, if it could be called that, of “What Space This Body” is that in going to the edge of language to describe and bind the world together, Todd utilizes a vocabulary that stretches my own, as a reader, to its limit. But being the linguistic frontierswoman that she is, that is a completely fair and understandable thing for her to be doing.
To purchase this book: http://www.windpub.com/booklist.htm
To access J.C. Todd’s Author Page: http://windpub/books/WhatSpace.htm