FFWD REW

Incarnate offers erotic poetry that’s rich real and sexy

It’s likely the words “erotic poetry” conjure images in readers’ minds of cheesecake gaudiness and throbbing members rather than something real and sexy. Juleta Severson-Baker’s new collection of poetry Incarnate is real erotica — the kind that’s full of rich and honest descriptions of sex and bodies motherhood and birth death and spirit. I don’t think it’s designed to make you blush but you might anyway.

Read the collection a couple of times and a sort of narrative emerges. There’s a prairie woman aboriginal who’s a mother and a wife. Memories of making love to her husband flow into images of her children playing in the backyard; trips to the Maritimes encroach on flashbacks to teenaged blowjobs. It’s a joyously female work; not preoccupied with the plumbing but what makes this particular woman tick. It’s not eroticism of the transgressive kind (to shock to confront) but fresh and tied to memory.

Severson-Baker writes about early morning sex and breastfeeding as if they both spring from the same personal space. Motherhood is something fierce and primordial; it’s also grinding consuming work. Sex is heady and lustful; also familial and ancient. The subject’s husband resides in the margins an important though separate component of her history. He’s either in her bed or returning home; she waits for him at the airport “working the wedding band over (her) aging knuckle.”

Other poems offer elegies and narratives for lost family and friends cancer diagnoses giving way to death and images of muted ruin (old clothes discarded journals). Severson-Baker avoids the usual on-the-nose lyrics of the birth and death cycle by constructing Incarnate as more of a narrative about one woman and her overlapping memories. The rich images and sensations of rabbit fur and wet grass don’t belong to an unknown (and unknowable) universal mother but to one who resides singularly in the book’s pages.

The woman’s aboriginal identity weaves throughout the book with some poems transforming into avian narratives and more ponderous lyrics of worship and politicization. Rather than appearing as poetic travelogues concise narratives of sacred places like Aisinai’pi (Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park) aid in creating a richer history for the book’s heroine.

Many of the poems detail the emotions and experiences of childbirth. (Severson-Baker works as a doula and that knowledge and experience is present here.) She writes of “blood in your womb” of full bellies grunting pain and sinew. It’s raw and animalistic but avoids being a catalogued list of easy visceral signifiers. Like the poems dealing with loss extreme pain is transcendental either resulting in a baby or welcome death. It’s an age-old idea but potent nonetheless.

Severson-Baker owns this book. There are times when Incarnate feels too full with the more sociological poems of mall moms and their chubby babies and intricate familial genealogies vying for space with the other womanly poems that provide the book’s backbone. That’s a minor quibble. It’s a testament to the book’s power that as a man I don’t understand some of its mysteries nor do I think I am meant to but I was captivated by it all the same.

INCARNATE by Juleta Severson-Baker Frontenac House (90 pp.)

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