The Incognito Body

2006, Red Hen Press

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In Cynthia Hogue’s collection, The Incognito Body, the ethical and the metaphysical are struck with the extraordinary, both surreal and, as the twenty-first century violently advances, allegorical. A cast-iron stove simmers in a field of good intentions. A man imprisons stones to teach them the morality he knows he represents. A passenger in transit between flights turns suddenly in fury, shouting obscenities at a complete stranger. In the central, experimental title series meditating on the “gift of illness,” as Kathy Acker wryly put it, the self wakes up one day to discover that the body she had always known has been replaced by an “incognito body” in pain. That “body” becomes in the end an acute consideration of the body politic, leaving the questions Hogue poses to hover and resonate rather than resolve.

Hogue’s is an innovative poetics of inquiry and witness, and The Incognito Body strikes subtle balance between the analytic and contemplative lyric, between methods of narrative and assemblage, and finally, between the mundane and the spiritual.

Rarely have I read a book in which the poems are at once so formally delicate and so spiritually and intellectually robust, a book in which the poems veer from the spiritual to the carnal and back in the blink of a line break, in which the hinge between spirit and flesh is gorgeously revealed. Rarely have I read a book in which hope and resignation face each other so nakedly. Merely by turning a page the reader’s intelligence and feelings must leap from the pole of belief to the pole of doubt. This is the miraculous and extraordinary experience of The Incognito Body.

Lynn Emanuel