Structure and Understanding

In class recently after reading Body from Percival Everett’s re:f(gesture) Dr. McCoy provided a prompt for further discussion. This prompt states:“Percival Everett’s “Body” intervenes in the blazon form. More specifically, the poems may be understood as arguing/suggesting/criticizing/celebrating/questioning…”

Blazon according to the Poetry Foundation catalogues the physical attributes of a subject, usually female. Everett’s poem Body draws attention to specific parts of the human form. It consists of a unique structure, that uses imagery to connect the focus of the reader’s mind outside, inside, over, under, around, and through with each part of the body. Similar to a tour, the poems guide the reader to the areas of importance and places these areas as the focus of what one must seek to understand. But why this order? Why are we leaving from the neck, travelling to the chest and foot before returning to the eye, then tongue, then nose? As I read through the poem once again, I continued to struggle to find the purpose for the poems seemingly random order. 

I shared with my group in our discussion that the poem reminds me of an episode in F.R.I.E.N.D.S when Monica is describing to Chandler the seven erogenous zones. She draws a diagram and labels the zones with numbers. Monica goes through an order of numbers to describe to Chandler based on the diagram. If someone were to walk in at this moment with no prior context of the show it would seem as though she were just shouting numbers. However, someone viewing from the beginning would find the interaction comical as Monica repeats 7 multiple times before dramatically falling backward into the couch. Like the episode, I feel that Everett’s order of parts is not arbitrary. 

Going back to the definition from the Poetry Foundation, “Blazon compares parts of the female body to jewels, celestial bodies, natural phenomenon, and other beautiful or rare objects.” I found it significant that the last poem in Body is the epigastric. According to healthline.com this is a type of stomach pain common in pregnant women as the baby applies pressure on the stomach. I found this additional information interesting and decided to retrace my steps through each part of the body looking for any reference to pregnancy or birth.

The first example I found in the palmar fascia where it states, “squeeze unconsciously when I am a baby, give gently when I am a man, control my thumb.” This reference to infancy and birth supports my earlier assertion that the poems could be referencing pregnancy. As I continued to look through this lens, I also became more aware of the language “where crying starts, crying ends” in the fissure of sylvius which could refer to a young child’s first cries. I also noticed the word choice in the larynx “it whispers, it calls, it cries.” Although it could be argued that adult humans whisper, call, and cry the word “call” reminded me of a small child calling out for a parent, or a baby crying out in the night. Finally, the poem ends as I noted previously in the epigastric, but it includes a line that I had not paid attention to before “before the aorta, the diaphragm, expanding with the motion of life.” Of course, breath is important to all people in all ages of life however, the fact that this line is in the poem for the epigastric could refer to the connection between mother and child. Perhaps the blazon nature of this poem is celebrating the female body and pregnancy. The formation of new life.

However, that would not answer my previous question as to why the poems are ordered in such a way. This reminded me of a conversation we had in class recently. Dr. McCoy was reviewing a specific comma usage error that was acceptable in British English but not in the United States. During this lesson, one of the students in my class, Kevin, raised the point that so much of Everett’s work seems to emphasize the irrelevancy of structure. Specifically, he noted the class in I am Not Sidney Poitier that the character Professor Everett teaches about Nonsense. However, Dr. McCoy mentioned that structure is often necessary (for example in the case of the comma) for us to be understood.

Body uses the blazon form to celebrate the female body and human life. The structure emphasizes the parts of the human form and uses imagery to describe them in detail. However, the individual order of the body parts may be a nod to the irrelevancy of order. Ultimately, the poem’s structure allows the reader to question and think deeper about the meaning and form of the human body.

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