Review by Laura Dennis
The title of Eve F.W. Linn’s chapbook, Model Home, along with the dollhouse-like furniture on its cover, evokes coldness, mass production, lack of individuality. Then one looks at the cover again. Do the chairs and table sit on a carpet, or is this some sort of fathomless pool? And those pale pink flowers . . . are they floating? They certainly seem more than mere decorative weave. Intrigued, one opens the cover, finds the Anne Sexton epigraph, Out of used furniture, she made a tree.
This may not be, one senses, what is typically thought of as a model home.
If I had to summarize this collection, I might say that it is a non-chronological exploration of the stages of womanhood, from pre-conception, as in “Suspended in Emulsion,” to after death, as in “Ashford, Massachusetts, 1890” and “Kingdom of Smalls.” Such a description, however, does scant justice to the complex interplay of worlds in these 25 poems. Consider, for example, my personal favorite, “Rare Migrant:”
I dyed my hair blue so I could fly,
but no wings grow from my scapula
nor do my bones empty their marrow,
become hollow. My head does not
narrow into a beak, nor do my eyes
move sideways, vanish into pinpricks.
To become a bird is not easy. (17)
Birds are not the only creatures evoked in these poems. There are also horses–“Hoof Beats” and “Mare”; snakes–“Herpetology”; and spiders–“Orb Weaver.” I especially, and unexpectedly, admire the arachnid’s voice:
I am the silver-face weaver, fixed as a jewel.
A pin of coral, jet, and pearl. (10-11)
Other poems borrow images from the botanical world–“The Future of Apples” and “The Cultivation of Cherries from a Treatise Discovered During Recent Excavation” spring to mind, though the most powerful evocation of flora was for me in the poem “Green.” In this series of couplets, the speaker’s illness is juxtaposed with evocations of the green world beyond the hospital walls:
here, a swell, here a run of sap, here, a smell of sweet damp
those young years breathed green–stone walls beckoned (7-8)
[ . . . ]
Spathes of skunk cabbage, peepers pitched call at dusk.
Father’s prized cats-eye marble, mother’s heirloom emerald. (15-16)
The collection is further enriched by artistic and poetic intertexts that lead the reader deeper into the other worlds. In addition to Anne Sexton’s voice, the opening poem, “Ashford, Massachusetts, 1890,” echoes Adrienne Rich. Linn, like Rich in her poem “Mourning Picture,” adopts the voice of 9-year-old Effie, the deceased daughter of artist Edwin Romanzo Elmer, featured in his painting Mourning Picture. Similarly, the poet plunges us into the world of Francesca Woodman, a talented, provocative photographer who committed suicide when she was just 22.
Sexton, Rich, Woodman . . . Clearly the poet wishes to engage the reader in a multifaceted conversation about femininity, including her own. This includes a certain audacity regarding old taboos such as the mother’s aging body in “The Verge,” menstruation in “Period,” or childhood trauma intermingled with collective trauma in “The Selling of Manhattan, 1626.” Simply put, this “model home,” as we suspected at the outset, is anything but. Or is it? True, we tend to think of “model home” much as the final poem, which shares its title with the book, initially does:
all passages frozen
surfaces slick corners sharp (2-3)
The poem goes on, however, to reference the “Shape-Me-Family” (6, poet’s emphasis). For those unfamiliar with this reference, Shape-Me toys are rubbery, people-shaped figures one can bend into a variety of shapes and positions, a reminder that “model” also means to shape, to sculpt, to form. Just as Linn shapes words on the page to create her poems, so the women in them borrow materials from myriad worlds to shape themselves, both inside and out. Upon finishing this collection, the reader may wish to go out and do the same.
Model Home by Eve F.W. Linn
River Glass Books, 2019, $9.95
Laura Dennis is a college professor in Appalachia. She manages and writes for the Attachment & Trauma Network (ATN) blog. Her nonfiction has been recognized in two literary contests, and she will be the featured author in the Spring 2020 issue of the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.