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When Love is a Fist

2017 (Not a Cult)

Edwin Bodney´s slender volume A Study of Hands is compressed excellence, a performance piece unfolding through poetic language and imagery. Beginning with an anatomical rendering of a hand´s skeleton, identifying both physical and emotional landmarks in the fingers and wrist, A Study of Hands speaks in an autobiographical vocabulary blending memory and history with sensation and feeling.

The passages within Bodney´s book interrelate with one another, with key images intertwining between poems to create deeper and more resonant meanings: stones, water, and of course hands. At its heart, A Study of Hands is a story about sexual and physical violence; how violence tends to be the shadow following love and desire; how our hands have the capacity both to touch as well as strike; and how these intergenerational patterns can make it so difficult for men to be close to other men, whether they be our fathers or our lovers.

There are a number of parallels drawn between the author´s father and his ex-lover, in terms of them both being left-handed, both born in December, and both killed their brothers. A Study of Hands is powerfully honest, as if the words of these poems were written in the poet´s blood. This volume courageously articulates the contradiction between wanting the approval of a violent parent, or the nostalgia for a dangerous lover, as well as the author contributes to the perpetuation of these complications, sufferings, and barriers towards harmonious intimacy. The voice within Bodney´s poetry is so intimate that it makes the reader identify, feel, and be caught up in the river of words and images. No one is beyond the reach of A Study of Hands.

In addition to being a writer, Bodney is also one of the hosts of Da Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles, and the immediacy of a live event is felt within the pages of this powerful volume of poetry. A Study of Hands rewards with repeated readings, revealing the reverberation of specific images, as well as the placement of key phrases or passages upon the layout of the page. It´s a beautiful, dense work, crafted with deep care.

Ultimately, this volume is also a story of survival, acceptance, of personal transformation. By the conclusion of A Study of Hands, Bodney has left his abusive relationship with his lover, and is beginning a new chapter. He is breaking the linkage of violence within the men in his family, and in his intimate relations with other men. With these poems, he shows us how he opened his fists, and tells us the meaning of each line and scar. Though relatively brief, Bodney´s A Study of Hands is no less impactful.

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