Typically I am not a poetry guy. Some poems dig into a singular feeling, focusing on a moment or a place, an image or a thought. These works like to linger about dancing on a single spot, cutting a hair over and over for lines and lines. Tara Shea Burke’s chapbook Let the Body Beg, from ELJ Publications, hits you with a fast paced selection of verse that moves you between spheres of understanding and existence. The reader is transported from one end of the emotional spectrum to another. One moment concentrates on a middle school aged girl falling in love only to later expose the reader to revulsion that accompanies such romances. To our delight, emotions are completed, life is cycled through.
Starting with the initial poem in the collection, “Hunger,” Burke digs into the heart of human desire. We hunger for so many things—yes food, but there is so much more, so much more innate and primal hungers as well complex, pensive ones. Yet, man is deeply afflicted, for in many of us there exists the converse: those people who hunger for nothing and struggle to actually exist. Thus Burke sticks the two at the same table, an interaction that allows the reader to not only view the conflict, but to also see both sides to such an issue, one that society avoids at a damaging cost.
Later in “Test,” Burke ponders faith. She questions the body’s needs both physically and spiritually in the guise of a barefoot sleepwalker strolling on ice. Beyond the obvious physical anguish, the reader must confront the narrator’s need and quest for survival on a spiritual level despite the fact that she is lacking in faith. Once again we are treated to both sides of an issue, examining the equation in full.
Throughout the text, Burke furthers the exploration of our position in life, first confronting sex then the gender roles therein. She turns things on their back, proposing one truth before exposing it as another, doing so in a poetic and compelling manner. She contrasts a red lace bra against feminist values, letting the reader see it as a sex symbol to both genders but also as an object that stands out as an aberration during a discussion on feminism due to the gender conflicts it presents.
There is plenty of humor here as well, as found in “The Hungry Girls of America” where Burke explores the lost dreams of America’s girls: “One looks at tattoos on her fingers: FUCK/on one fist, THAT on the other. Unemployed.” Such lines, ones ringing with a combination of honesty and poignancy say so much while lacing the collection with a tint dark humor that keeps the pages turning and the collective message advancing. In the end, the collection seems to center on the dualities it presents, leaving the reader pondering the truths life presents.