In a 2016 interview with Eleanor Chandler for Prac Crit, Sylvia Legris describes her poem “Part the Second,” from The Hideous Hidden, as “‘succulent,’ a fleshy water-storing plant. Or ‘glandular’: small but vital cell masses that ooze and secrete.” This description could extend to Legris’s poetry as a whole; her poems are as close to material as poetry can get. Her words are multiplicitous and shape-shifting; they fill the space of a poem in a way that feels tangible, the way the complexities of blood fill entirely the tube of a vein. Hers is indeed, at times, a bloody poetry, though never clichéd or horror-filled; rather, blood rises and pools through a poetic process of peeling back the surfaces that keep our innards in (muscle, cells and biles, cerebrality). Digging for what is not meant to be seen, Legris enacts a study of what exists beneath, and her poetic project is to embed those unseen materials into the visible fabrics of her poetry.
There are few formal characteristics that we can thread through from Legris’s circuitry of veins to The Hideous Hidden. Such a dramatic evolution in her poetics has taken place in the twenty years spanning the two collections that a reader could hardly identify Legris as their sole author. Yet Legris’s concerns remain the same, namely, the somatic, and rendering materiality in language. The execution of this thinking deepens and sharpens as her collections of poetry progress. Legris has admitted her preoccupation with the bodily, and especially with what exists unseen but which is certainly there, within us. When discussing the title of The Hideous Hidden for the Toronto Festival of Authors, the poet claims to freak herself out “imagining what might be going on inside my own body. Blood streams afloat with islets of fat, bone islands, the recurring skirmish of muscle and bone in my shin-splints’d tibia.” This captivation with the uncontrollable within us, but that which, paradoxically, makes us (and makes us feel stable and indeed under control), is present from the first. In circuitry of veins dual narrations are featured: one describes, obliquely and experimentally, the changes a woman’s body undergoes in the various stages of cancer; another describes a woman’s body suffering from anorexia nervosa. The two impulses mirror and shift in relation to one other in a way that allows for comment on the endurances of the body: how physical illness debilitates the mind, and how mental illness physically deprives—all articulating a tightrope between wellness and sickness, and specifically, their impact on a human female body. . .
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