Review of Lauren Davis’ Chapbook, “Each Wild Thing’s Consent”

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Poetry Wolf Press, poetrywolf.press
24 pages
$10 in print, $8 digital
Physical format is handmade. Stapled. Printed using French Paper Company paper.
Partial proceeds go to a local Jefferson County nonprofit called The Dove House.
Author website: LaurenDavisPoetry.com

Submitted by Jeff Santosuosso, November 2018

Book titles guide us. In Lauren Davis’ breathy debut chapbook, we’re taken through a series of journeys to a conclusive observation. We live in a natural world and are part of it. We exist, participate, and partake with the consent of what surrounds us, tacit or deliberate. In fact, we ourselves grant our consent to each other. At our heights, we are intimate, sharing our vulnerabilities and desires. Yet we risk physical injury, even death. We also risk spiritual decline. But the risk is worth the reward as these intimacies reveal the power of the metaphysical. In her effort to “describe the feminine divine,” Davis shows us that in sharing, after earning consent, we make spiritual connections and reach plateaus we could not make or reach alone.

A good chapbook follows a theme, a great one delivers that theme in all its multi-faceted roundness. It echoes and reverberates, reveals the depth of the theme, sometimes linearly, sometimes discursively. Wind-blown references uncover the hidden. And so it is with “Each Wild Thing’s Consent.”  The theme develops organically, beginning with physical love and sensual stimulations.

Her starting point could not be clearer in the first poem, “Volvodynia.” From the initial religious imagery, Davis pivots to the bodily, the female. She’s set her tone: The feminine divine will be discovered with courage and boldness, but also reverence. “My Body Incapable” laments just that. As her speaker recovers from the pain and exposure of a gynecological exam, her mate manages the tricky task of collecting and tossing broken glass, the images juxtaposed clearly. But already the bonding has begun, the consent given and received. “Forever, you say, we have forever to wait.”

Though an expression of spiritual love, physical love can have its limitations, the expression of which is dramatized in “Vaginismus.”

“…Nothing can touch the way
you could if I could
take you without pain….”

Our speaker prays to the sky, receiving the spirit she yearns for, the body’s limitations overcome by the spirit’s fulfillment. The theme is well underway. Later, she revisits the physical agony, well worth the rewards of her mate, in “To My Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist.” Then, in “Cave Study,” she teases us with double entendre, making the joys of physical love perfectly clear. “Land Not Required” just keeps rolling the theme:

“…My body
unaccustomed to the sway of water,
first rock me back and forth on sand.
Train me how to hike the mast….”

“Pilgrimage to Saint Sara” takes us through the crossroads, down the path of wonder to be fulfilled by the remainder of the writing. The religious setting is no accident. We follow our speaker on a holy passage, downward into a crypt, seemingly inaccessible. Only a kiss unlocks the puzzle, makes the connection. Our speaker touches the statue’s lips, then her own, a charge passing between them. Uplifted, she entreats this same energy from her partner.

In “I am a New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar,” the speaker’s mate saves her from extinction. Vulnerable and frail, she relies on the heroism and protection of her mate,

“…ready
to be collected beneath
your breast…”.

For the bird, truly a matter of life and death, of extinction, no less; for the speaker, another loss, just as deep. Her mate provides sanctuary.

 For all the wandering through physical and metaphysical love, Davis turns the entire work in “I Will Cocoon You.” While this is quite a common theme, the transformation is freshly worded with pauses to satisfy. They have created new selves – both as individuals and as an indivisible couple in which they transcend themselves:

“…When I am finished
friends will call you
stranger…”

She is able to satisfy her physical desires, arousal beginning gently in “On the Deck,” where she asks to “shave the soft hairs/above your collar line.” This piece echoes water imagery which flows through the entire work. “The Rented Room in Mount Shasta,” switches from one element to the next, where “there is more cedar/and so much heat.”

“Native” brings it all home, voicing the work’s title, as the speaker and her lover find their place, sharing love in the natural world, keenly aware that they are as much object as subject:

“…You said, It’s beautiful, but do we really belong here,
where creatures hide? Then an elk herd stomped across

the dirt road, and you braked, shocked. The fattest turned
to stare over his long beard. To know or warn us?

Yes, my love, we belong, but on soil-stained knees,
asking for each wild thing’s consent to stand….”

The revelation is confirmed with great peace and alacrity in “But Most of All,” as she affirms, “But most of all I am/ a woman in communion, her ear to the wall.”

Her journey complete, her identity clarified, she realizes that physical things are impermanent. But she remains steadfast, closing with “Mountain, Incidental.” A victim of a minor accident, she confirms her fidelity: “Have faith, I am only temporarily mislaid./I tread down the mountainside in the rain.” This title carries us subtly, the great rising symbol, the almighty natural setting which she has embraced, for all its pains and pleasures, limitations and transcendence. And yet, it’s incidental, her own power towering above all that surrounds her, the constraints of the physical world eclipsed by the supernatural power of the spirit, fired in awareness, acceptance, will, and faith.

Concluding at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, the couple surpasses their physical love and emotional bond to unite with the greater natural world. In that sense, the work is one of maturity. Moving from one phase to the next, Davis never forgets the roots of this elevation. On the contrary, she reveals for us the notion that this consent has been there all along. At first, it was human. As she concludes, we realize that while the consent is now human, it’s elemental, inseparable from the human world. Just as our bodies are inseparable from our spirits, as we as individuals are from each other, so are we from the natural world. As wild things ourselves, we grant our own consent, inviting others to connect with our very core. That is the most generous invitation of all, the greatest risk, the supreme reward.

While this fine work achieves its goal related to the “feminine divine,” it embraces us all, independent of our gender. With our consent, it describes our human divine.

Lauren Davis (2)Lauren Davis is a poet living on the Olympic Peninsula in a Victorian seaport community. She holds an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars, and she works at the Tishman Review and the Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books. She recently received a residency from Hyapatia-in-the-Wood.  Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Split Lip Magazine, Ibbetson Street, Ninth Letter and elsewhere.

 

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