In the introduction to Archive of the Undressed, Jeanette Lynes explains that the “triggering muse” for this new book of poems was a collection of vintage Playboy magazines. From that alone, one might assume that what follows will keep the mind wandering and one hand free to loosen a button or two as sharply imagined bodies undress between the pages.
There are bodies in these poems, and there is beauty. “Four Playmates” speaks of nipples like sand dollars, a girl submerged in water, and a fur coat left open to expose a breast. But those details aside, it would be wrong to assume anything about this archive. The book is as much about tragedy and expectation, presumption and misperception, loneliness and hollow glamour as it is about our relationship with eroticism and the art of the tease.
Lynes builds lines of connection with the women she portrays. She presents them intimately, makes them so real they seem touchable – probably not unlike the way Playboy readers felt decades ago when they gazed upon the first centrefolds. Those connections are predicated upon Lynes’s imaginative development of the backstories of women who have frequently been dehumanized for public consumption rather than treated as individuals. Lynes includes poems featuring burlesque dancers and pin-up girl Bettie Page, and redefines sexuality in Northern Ontario – a region playfully referred to as The Queen’s Bush.
There is relentless darkness throughout this collection, though. “A Rose for Yvette Vickers,” a strong depiction of the depths of loneliness, lingers long after the book is over. Aging and the endless scrutiny of women’s bodies are recurring themes, especially in pieces like “Imaginary Letter from the People to the Early Playboy Centrefolds.”
There is a distinct feminist tone coursing through Archive of the Undressed, which reads like a poetic blend of Bust magazine and riot grrl thrashings, and focuses as much on women from past eras as on gender and sexuality today.
Remarkable, unexpected, and highly relevant, what Lynes has given over is a devastatingly beautiful body – of work.