As its name suggests, Body Split borrows from music’s collaborative split 7-inch model to produce a pair of distinct and complementary voices in poet Sarah Tourjee and D.C.-based fiction writer (and former drummer in The Shondes) Temim Fruchter. The resulting collection is a first of its kind for Anomalous Press, and if the apparent success of Body Split is any indication, it may serve them well to encourage more cross-pollination among projects in the future.
Sarah Tourjee’s When Tongue Was Muscle is a testament to the poet’s lyrical range, as read through a series of anatomically inspired verse. With such seemingly banal titles as “Vertebrae,” “Rib,” and “Blood Blister,” Tourjee offers little to mount expectation at first blush. Forgoing the dynamic line breaks, punctuation, and stanzaic structure we’ve come to expect from contemporary poetry, Tourjee takes risks that would backfire in the hands of a lesser poet. When Tongue Was Muscle is everything one could ask for in a collection of poetry, which is to say it is an ever-expanding work of art, where blood is not only that, but also what “falls from the nose to prove that inside of you is color.”
The work of Body Split, for both Tourjee and Fruchter, is a meditative experience. Their observations are so tactile and exact that one can’t help but walk away from these poems with a heightened sense of the world around them or, better still, an altogether fresh perspective. Consider this passage from Tourjee’s poem “Hand”:
A hand, for instance, removed from its arm, becomes the/
hand’s whole body, wherein the digits become the arms or/
branch, and the nails just failing hands.
In three short lines, we are elevated from the body’s everyday experience to see our hands in a way that feels wholly original and unexpected. Adding yet another collaborative element are the occasional illustrations of Nick Francis Potter, whose starkly sketched appendages provide a perfect counterbalance to Tourjee’s intimate poetry.
By contrast, the work in Temim Fruchter’s I Wanted Just To Be Soft is perhaps a bit more episodic, though it follows many of the same thematic elements of When Tongue Was Muscle. This thread of continuity allows each side of this joint collection to flow seamlessly into the next, no matter which side you turn to first. Fruchter’s work reflects a lyric interior that is also informed by Judaic history and culture, as in the opening lines of “On Missing”: “in Jewish tradition, the body is not an interim. The body is a definite. The body is in no hurry.”
Like Tourjee, Fruchter’s work feels most at home in her imagination, with prose that finds easy comparison between the interdependent machineries of our bodies and those of a bustling city:
I could try to be a city worth visiting. Maybe I would/
be formidable. Maybe I would even be impressive. I could/
wear a skyline pretty well, I thought. I imagined the/
sweeping ball gown skirts of my majestic bridges and the/
gem-studded necklaces of the lights of my nights…
The prose in this collection reads with a particular intimacy, in part because we see the speaker at her most vulnerable and insecure—the speaker is not afraid to expose her own interior monologue as she struggles to make sense of the wider world. It is such a familiar feeling and yet not always so easily expressed in the age of incendiary soundbites. Far from marginalizing, we should honor and take heed of our writers’ emotional vocabulary, if only to see its greater implementation during periods of despair.