I couldn’t quite put “If My Body Could Speak” down, but I couldn’t finish it in one sitting because each poem tore me apart (it was intense beauty). Baird writes about anorexia, being queer, sexual assault, misogyny, and much more. In each of these topics, she writes from a place of honesty, of hurt — it demands the reader to listen, to feel the pain she goes through.
Right off the bat, she
starts with the poem “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny,” which had gone viral when
Baird performed it. I was struck by several stanzas, but perhaps my favourite
lines are the ending:
when I was little,
someone asked me
what I wanted to be
when I grow up
and I said,
smallWhen the Fat Girl Gets Skinny
Even when taken out of
the context of the poem, these lines are thunderous. I was struck with how
Baird was able to take these small words and create something big. She didn’t
have to bring out some crazy vocabulary, but rather use language that reflects the
core innocence of childhood and how terrible it is for a child to feel these
Baird doesn’t miss a beat with the consequent poems, each one taking my breath away. In a way, it’s difficult to review the collection without being able to divulge in each poem. “Girl Code 101” stood out to me more than the others:
13,Girl Code 101
the year dad says wearing short skirts in the city
is like driving without a seatbelt.
The comparison shows not
only the danger but the messed-up mentality of putting the responsibility on
the [potential] victim. The tone is nonchalant, showing how normalised it is
for a thirteen-year-old girl to be ‘taught’ to behave in certain ways. It is her
delivery of this tone that makes the writing so heavy-hitting and poetic. I loved
the use of Biblical imagery to discuss the roots of misogyny in religion. In
the same poem, Baird writes:
Give me one accomplishment of Mary’sGirl Code 101
that did not involve her vagina.
This was so fucking bold,
but yet fitting. It speaks volumes of how society (and religion) have been
consistently tools of the patriarchy which dictate the value of a woman related
to her procreativity and other feminine standards. She doesn’t hide behind
words in delivering this.
On a similar note,
“Pocket-Sized Feminism” is another banging poem:
Once, my dad informed me sexism is deadPocket-Sized Feminism
and reminded me to always carry pepper spray
The paradox comes out
effortlessly, partly because this is a widespread belief. These line should
also be taken into the context of the poem — Baird shows us how it is like to
be constantly harassed and to made feel guilty and responsible for not putting
an end to it. There’s the delicate dance where standing up for yourself or for
other woman will risk her losing friends and get harassed for it (and this
would be especially true during teenager years). It’s a lose-lose situation
which amplifies the pain expressed throughout.
I found both “The Way I
Was Taught to Love” and “An Invitation” to be heart wrenching and realistic
queer poems — I could relate quite personally to these. The former of these is
about the intense relationship with her mother during the coming out period,
and frankly, if I had to quote a line, I’d quote the whole poem. In the latter,
she also writes about her mother:
She hates my selective memory.An Invitation
She says, You only ever
remember the slammed doors,
But why don’t you
ever write about how I used
to sing to you before
bed every single night?
I’ve had similar
conversations with my mother, and seeing these lines written caught me
off-guard. The mother knows how she nurtured her daughter for so long and
remembers all the sweet things she done, and this is contrasted with the pain
where Baird focuses on the painful events. These poems are not only important
because they tell the poet’s story, but also because many queer people can
relate and understand their relationships better.
As the collection progresses, the poetry becomes even more emotional and strong as sexual assault becomes the pivotal topic. Baird writes:
To live in the body of a survivorTo live in the body of a survivor
is to never be able to leave
the scene of the crime.
The simile is powerful
because in reality, it is not a simile — it is the truth. We’re ordered to
avoid crime scenes; they are closed from public access. Trust me, if you ever
experienced something negative, most likely, you would avoid that place, partly
to avoid future instances, and partly because of triggers and flashbacks. As
assault survivors, we don’t have that luxury. You get to see the victim every
time you look in the mirror. You get to experience the whole ordeal when your
mind ‘goes there’. This also has implications for one’s identity: the ‘I’ tends
to become depersonalised and is disconnected from the body — the crime scene.
This is shown in the use of ‘the’ in the title, “To Live in the Body of a
Towards the end, Baird
presents “Yet Another Rape Poem”, which is exactly what it claims to be. It’s
aimed at the criticism that she writes too much about rape:
“I know you are threatenedYet Another Rape Poem
because I am
a thunderstorm of a woman.”
Baird has a voice that
commands attention. Poetry was a safe place for her to share her story. It not
only takes talent to create masterpiece poems like these, but a poet also needs
to be as brave as Baird is in sharing them. Even to be honest with oneself is
difficult, let alone to read these poems in public and print them in books. As
a reader, I felt mightily empowered by this poem and how Baird refuses to be
silenced. Truly, I’ve only got praise for her.
Throughout the collection, I was vulnerable and connected intimately to Baird’s words. The rhythm flowed effortlessly, almost in a tone of a bedtime story in which all that should be shocking is normalised. We’re not given any punch lines or twists, but constantly gut-wrenching pain. This style also reflects the reality of millions of people, of how harassment and assaults aren’t a one-time event but are repetitive, occurring daily and how we suffer the consequences without pause. Amidst the hurt of it all, I found comfort in Baird’s brave poems that left me feeling that I am not alone, that we are stronger together.
I received an Advanced Review Copy from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Sources and Links:
Book: If My Body Could Speak (Button Poetry, 2019)
Book Cover: Goodreads
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