The Skin Beneath
-Book Review by Rachel Wooley–
Saralyn Lyons’ first chapbook, “The Skin Beneath,” released on May 9, 2014, is a vibrant new collection of poetry. Throughout these 25 poems, the female speaker (or speakers — the poems are linked but not necessarily the same voice) explores her identity. She relates physical and emotional experiences, thinking about what she is not (“sorry I’m not / such a patriot either”) as well as what she is.
Relationships and sexual encounters feature prominently throughout the collection: the good and the bad, beginnings and endings, liaisons that shouldn’t have occurred but couldn’t be resisted. But these poems are not sentimental. They are visceral, physical, and sensual. They’re grounded and celestial, vivid and colorful. Some are a little rough around the edges, but the roughness works — this speaker isn’t the polished “long cool woman / swilling whiskey in bars” — she’s more the type to “shake the words and promises off… / and, like a warrior, take charge / of her own mistakes.” Lyons’ characters own their experiences and their imperfections, bringing the reader in close as if sharing secrets with a best friend.
Balancing the celebratory nature of some of the poems in this collection are a few pieces that explore more serious themes. Moments of tenderness occur when a speaker stops to “marvel / at the sudden smallness of you” or, in a moment of fear, to “feel her hand small in mine.” Among the best poems are a beautiful and haunting three-part series called “Visitations,” about the speaker’s dreams of motherhood. Speaking of haunting, a voice-driven poem of that title explores the notion that the speaker’s house might be more attentive than the lover with whom she is living: “my / nerves crackle at the idea / that I could be watched at every moment.”
The speaker in this collection feels young but not naïve – she’s still invigorated by the world and has not become jaded, and the reader gets to share her joie de vivre. The collection explores a woman’s various roles – daughter, sister, mother, lover – in domesticity and day-to-day life as well as her more transcendental moments: “I am Mars burning red / in the pocket of the sky”; “I take my body like a juniper tree / and twist my branches round in hurricane delight.”
The cover of the book – a photographic blur of bright colors – suits its contents perfectly. Lyons designed the book cover and layout herself, crafting a clean, inviting package full of energy and light.