rev. of Devolution of the Nude by Lynne McMahon

Issue #62
Winter 1993-94

Devolution of the Nude 
Poems by Lynne McMahon. David R. Godine, Publisher, $12.95 paper. Reviewed by David Daniel.

The best works in Lynne McMahon’s
Devolution of the Nude seem like found poems, unlikely jewels turned up in some nearby but rarely visited garden of the mind. The freshness of her language provides both delight and terror in the book, which reveals as it obscures, and obscures as it reveals, inviting the reader to enter with humility and humor into the heart of things.

McMahon’s poems stop and start, tantalize, dangle on the verge of giving or taking away; they have the quality of an extraordinary conversation with one’s spirit, revising, growing, transforming the overwhelming stuff of life into a comprehensible, if not comfortable, vision. In “Artifact,” a pacifier is discovered “lint-wrapped from its long hiding” and becomes the center of a meditation on substitution, our disaffection from the “unalterable form.” The poem moves gracefully and wittily from this almost comic solemnity to the searing deadpan of “And arcing between all such masculine histories / the curved simulacrum of the breast, shape of the planet, / some have said, the Eternal Feminine / or would be, if these new age pacifiers were not / so bulbous / at their tip, so elongated at the shaft.”

“Hopkins and Whitman” reveals as much about the book’s strategy and is as beautiful as any poem in the collection. First stating “Hard to imagine two men more unlike,” McMahon goes on to show how they were also similar: “How magnetic the expanse / between fastidious and crude when cast / into the field of dappled things!” One feels these poets’ presence in several of the poems; in “Barbie’s Ferrari,” where Barbie and her Ferrari show perhaps Whitman at one pole of the magnet, Hopkins, in the last lines, stands at the other: “It’s the car she was born for. / It’s Barbie you mourn for.” The result of this sort of juxtaposition throughout the book is the paradoxical creation of a continuum, which allows escape from the trap of nostalgia without sacrificing historical perspective. The resulting poems are startlingly present, alive, and original.