In Percival Everett’s collection of poems, re: (f) gesture, there is a section that focuses on body parts. It is appropriately called “Body”. Each poem is entitled with the biological term for the body part being described. This scientific language seen in each title is also present throughout the poems as they describe that body part’s features and functions. The dialect Everett choses to use in his descriptions is a helpful tool in understanding the meaning of the poems.
The language in Everett’s “Body” alternates between the colloquial language that I am more familiar with, and terminology that almost mimics a medical diagnosis. An example of this medical language can be seen with the poem entitled “Nasal Fosse”. This title refers to what is more commonly referred to as a nose. Everett continues this poem by describing the various parts of the nose and its canals, “…the posterior nares in the naso pharynx”. This language is not commonly used in poetry or in literature in general. So, the fact that Everett has chosen to use such scientific language in a poem piques my interest. I want to examine poetry as a literary form and explore Everett’s decision to include scientific vocabulary in his poems.
Poetry is defined in the Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms as “literary expression characterized with particular attention to rhythm, sound, and the concentrated, concrete use of language.” The Bedford continues by characterizing poetry as a literary genre and comparing it to other artistic forms of expression such as dance. With these attributes in mind, one can assume that poetry falls under the realm of the humanities. Speaking on behalf of the many stereotypes I have personally witnessed, the humanities are often thought of as a creative, philosophical, and abstruse discipline. Because of its non-concrete nature, the humanities are often seen as lesser than other areas of concentration of study. I have often heard the joke towards a humanities major about what he or she could “realistically” do with his/her degree once out of college.
Science, on the other hand, is a more valued and respected area of study in our society. It revolves around tested theories and mathematical equations, ensuring to others that it is based on the facts of our world. People who study science are supposedly unopinionated and detached from their work, contrasting with the creative humanities that generally place emphasis on the person’s emotions. The differences between these two practices are great, and yet both disciplines are intertwined in many ways. The long-standing partition of paradigm between these two concentrations prevents humans from realizing the capabilities that both practices can offer us together.
Joe Moran explores this issue in Science, Space, and Nature. Moran explains where the divergence between the humanities and the sciences potentially began with Francis Bacon’s formulation of scientific discovery. Bacon argues against believing in the arbitrary and that “human beings… should be studied without fixed preconceptions” that the humanities are apparently full of. These ideals enhanced the credibility of the sciences while making the humanities seem less plausible. Thus, the sciences and humanities were innately separated ever since. Or were they? Moran continues by showing various times when scientific endeavors have used literary techniques from the humanities and vice versa. One example is through map-making. One would probably consider maps to fall under scientific boundaries. However, there is evidence of the literary use of metaphor within maps. This is because maps are not the actual territory, they present but a mere representation of that territory, just like how a metaphor in language represents a situation without actually embodying it. Moran also includes data describing how maps were often works of fiction in earlier times, where the inspiration did not come from the topographical features of the territory, but instead from speculation of the territory’s inhabitants. Moran’s argument that maps are interdisciplinary is significant because it proves that the humanities and the sciences are interlocking despite what people’s original beliefs are.
Percival Everett does his own version of interlocking of these two disciplines through his poems in “Body”. While I can never truly know the author’s intentions, analyzing Everett’s choice of language allows me to consider different ideas that he possibly wants to come across in his writing. Perhaps he wants the reader to see the beauty of the human body in its natural form. The jargon that Everett uses is medical, but the poems aren’t written as a medical description of the body. Instead, they are written as beautiful depictions admiring the human body. This is evident in the poem, “The Sternum”, “Oblique in inclination from above and downward, it is my shield.” Here, Everett describes the shape of the sternum literally, yet compares it to protective armor figuratively. By using both literary and scientific terms, Everett is able to convey a unique meaning with this poem. Everett also doesn’t shy away from arresting details of the human body with this language, “…they press gently past vulval orifice, toward her anus” (Labia Majora). I believe that this is a very powerful way to write. He does not sugar-coat any graphic descriptions of body parts and by doing so, allows the reader to truly marvel at how the human body works. In my opinion, the scientific language allows for a more realistic interpretation of the beauty of the body. It also connects the more credible discipline of the sciences with poetry of the humanities making the poems themselves more conceivable.
Percival Everett’s “Body” is a celebration of the human body in its realest form. Through his use of biological and literary words, Everett’s “Body” is a perfect example of interdisciplinary writing. This choice of language affects the overall meaning of the poems and influences the reader’s interpretation.