rev. of To Put the Mouth To by Judith Hallby
To Put the Mouth To
Poems by Judith Hall. Quill/William Morrow, $8.00 paper. Reviewed by Diann Blakely Shoaf.
"To put the mouth to" is an old definition of
adorare, and the phrase gives Judith Hall a memorable title while also providing a ground-bass for this musical and voluptuously intelligent first collection. "Love / Is difficult when not reduced to pulses / Sucking," she writes in one of the poems in "Fragments of an Eve: Scraps From Her Album"; in other work Hall examines the fine line between adoration and pornography. Women are worshipped for their beauty even as they are punished for it, assaulted through objectification, aesthetic and actual, "Cameos" implies. Taking the point even further, "A Wild Plum Is for Independence" suggests that masochism is woman's natural lot. Pleasure, for us, is usually derived from the same source as pain, and as a consequence, telling the difference between the two can be nearly impossible.
Yet while the ability to make distinctions, in life as in art, is one of the things that keeps us human, we are also human insofar as we are able to let difference and separation collapse in moments of pure pleasure: "No thought, nothing but circles of pink: / The mouth holds the body in place." And after reading
To Put the Mouth To, surely no one would argue that such a function should be reserved for the mind or soul alone. The gorgeous textures of Hall's poems, woven as they are in equal parts of the sensuous and the spiritual, would have tempted, if not chastened, that avatar of asceticism, St. Augustine. "Lord keep us safe," a variation on his famous prayer, is a ubiquitous one in these dangerous times; still, Hall's poems echo his equally famous addendum: "but not yet."
Diann Blakely Shoaf 's first book of poems, Hurricane Walk,
was published last year by BOA editions. She teaches at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville.