FLESHGRAPHS: THE ESSENCE OF FEMALE RESILIENCE AND VULNERABILITY
A REVIEW OF BRYNNE REBELE-HENRY'S FLESHGRAPHS BY FARAH GHAFOOR
As a prelude to this review, I recommend watching Listen to Shame, a Ted Talk by author and researcher Professor Brenè Brown.
In her Ted Talk, Brenè Brown draws the conclusion that shame is different for men and women. For men, it’s shameful to appear weak. For women, it’s shameful to appear imperfect or unable to manage their lives. Vulnerability comes from overcoming shame and opening oneself up to “emotional risk,” as Brown calls it. By those guidelines, Brynne Rebel-Henry’s Fleshgraphs is the epitome of both shamelessness and vulnerability because it examines women who are realistic and unapologetic, and it enters conversations about gender, sexuality, and self-harm.
Although Fleshgraphs would be an outstanding example of human resilience if Rebele-Henry had molded the poems into a traditional form, it is significant that she chose not to, the result being an ordered list of prose poems. Aided by their lack of transitions and short lengths, Rebele-Henry creates machinegun-like emotional effects on the reader and surpasses boundaries with her careful organization. For example, over a few pages, the reader can identify the pattern here if they are attentive enough:
Before she put her head in the oven she sang Thomas the Tank Engine to her reflection.
. . .
“I put his head in the oven to see what bodies taste like,” I tell them in their black suits, with their flashing lights.
Between poems, each pause is just a breath away from more of Rebele-Henry’s potent and urgent imagery and split-second views of the lives of women. These slivers usually have a tragic theme like death or substance abuse, and desensitize the reader as they progress further into the book. Rebele-Henry’s dark, insensitive voice fleshes out more and more into one’s head as heavy and honest work, and her humor is unmistakeably present in many of her poems. Although it occasionally isn’t immediately identified, Fleshgraphs weaves a thread of sarcasm that appears as lighting in a storm between the pages. Unexpected, yet welcome. Below is one of many examples:
He was so high last night he thought we were gay anteaters.
Fleshgraphs is a well-selected title for a book that analytically presents the messy business of taking people apart, layer by layer, as the reader bears witness to it all. The beauty and boldness of this book reminds the reader to stay vulnerable and to not underestimate the depth of strangers’ lives. I recommend reserving an evening to be split apart by Rebel-Henry and her devastating work.
Brynne Rebele-Henry was born in 1999. Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Denver Quarterly, Fiction International, The Volta, So to Speak, Verse, and Adroit, among other publications. She has received numerous honors for her work, including the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Award from the Poetry Society of America. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.
Farah Ghafoor is a sixteen-year-old poet and the editor-in-chief of Sugar Rascals. Her work is published or forthcoming in Ninth Letter, alien mouth, and Big Lucks among other places, and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Farah is the recipient of the 2016 Alexandria Quarterly Emerging Artists and Writers Award. She believes that she deserves a cat.
Find her online at fghafoor.tumblr.com.