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Skin Divers

by Anne Michaels

Anne Michaels’ third collection of poetry continues the work of her groundbreaking 1996 novel, Fugitive Pieces. Readers who know Michaels through her novel alone will recognize the striking lyricism of Skin Divers. A profound interest in language – she excavates words for sound and meaning – and powerful images are evident in her prose and poetry alike. Michaels’ work is marked by intense engagement with her various subjects and a belief in the redemptive quality of language to transform – even radically alter – experience.

Across the collection, poems explore the changeable nature of love. As in Fugitive Pieces, where love and work sanctify the past, love is morally imperative to the speakers in Skin Divers.

The poems in parts one and three are linked; they concern the speaker’s developing relationship with her photographer lover and, later, with their daughter. Part two presents portraits of actual women who lost love through death. Weaving past, present, loss, and pleasure, the poems assert the cyclical yet imponderable aspects of love.

The body feels love as a source of awakening and “like a floodplain, sentiment-laden, / reclaims itself with every tide.” As the poem is written on the page, love is written on the body as “word of skin.” The tactile effect of love on flesh is felt throughout the volume, where poems render the human body as soil. For Michaels, love occupies a geography of land, water, and air, images that shape her poetic landscape.

Love also defers the haunting “thrums of distant loneliness.” In part two, Michaels writes of physicist Marie Sklodowska Curie’s love for her husband, Pierre Curie, killed in a traffic accident; of sculptor Kathleen Scott’s love for explorer husband, Robert Falcon Scott, who died on an expedition to the South Pole; and of novelist Adele Wiseman’s loss of her beloved mother. The melding of love, work, and daily life saves these women from the burning grief of loss. A further source of solace and joy is children, and by the end of the collection the speaker can write of the power of her own daughter “to heal a wound from seam to seam, / from the depth.” Skin Divers celebrates love’s myriad forms.