Jessica Goody's poetry collection Defense Mechanisms was among my three favorite entries in this year's contest. As I judge each book, I write copious comments and notes in the margins, all the while mercilessly fact-checking for accuracy. A sampling of my spontaneous comments during my first read-through:
"Brilliant extended metaphor."
"Great images. I see, feel, taste and smell this poem."
"The writer knows her anatomy and physiology."
This book, steeped in water imagery, is a stunning exploration of the medicalized body. It reveals the cold indignities of medical intervention while honoring the resilience of the human body and spirit. The opening poem, "The Mermaid", shows us the stark reality of a high-tech hospital room using the extended metaphor of a mermaid taken from the ocean.
"The mermaid wears a mask... The air
she breathes is blue and cool; she cannot adjust
to the smog ashore."
"...Removed from the
succoring ocean, her skin is dull and roughened
her sloughing scales losing their gleam."
The poems in the first half of the book build upon this metaphorical intensity. The writer has done her homework: she writes about the medical experience with a deep knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and hospital culture and routine, unflinching in her portrayals of physical and emotional disability, yet always, always honoring the dignity—and the human beauty—inherent in each portrayal.
The second half of the book opens with the line: "There are no graceful deaths." This declaration was for me the most powerful moment in the book, forcing me to stop reading and to think. Is Goody challenging the popular notion of death with dignity? Is that notion a burden to hospice patients and their loved ones? How does that declarative line fit into the rest of the book? What is its deeper, metaphorical meaning, ie., what other kinds of deaths might she be referring to?
There were many stop-and-think moments throughout this volume, an indicator of powerful poetry that is understandable on imagistic levels while raising cultural and philosophical questions about the human condition.
I couldn't find any typos, scientific misinformation, or misspellings. I especially appreciate this because many entries this year contained inaccurate medical and scientific facts as well as typos and inconsistent formatting.
A few images, although startling, were repeated, lessening their overall impact. Some of the poems in the final part of the book were not quite as strong, although this is more a reflection of the magnificence of the first two-thirds of the book. These are small quibbles in an otherwise superb book of poems. This writer deserves wide readership and attention from a mainstream publisher. I congratulate Jessica Goody on this achievement.
Let me conclude with another excerpt, this one from the poem "Drawing Blood":
"She slaps my arm, tenderizing the meat,
bruising the road-map curlicues of veins,
arteries and capillaries as fine as the stroke of
Buy Defense Mechanisms on Amazon