by Elizabeth Myhr
This book needs a review that will plunge into the religious and philosophical arguments presented in these poems. But this review is not going to do that, not directly anyway. What fascinates me about Brian Volck’s wonderful debut collection is its unusually intense intimacy. Many contemporary poets are intimate in a cerebral way, a kind of vacuous airiness holding it all together. But not Volck. “Minds are impediments / when unmoored to created things.” His refreshingly direct and assertive voice makes of reality a plain, touchable thing: “I’ve never held a soul / embraced without flesh.”
Volck is a doctor by profession. He knows a thing or two about flesh. And he knows a lot about human intimacy, the kind of intimacy that is currently taboo between doctor and patient but exists anyway; the kind of necessary human intimacy that gets lashed by fatigue into ineffective clinical sterility; the flavor of intimacy that only a man who understands bodies for a living might dare himself to stay with in his poetry. Volck’s work explores the territory where intimacy thrums between lovers, close friends, nearest kin. Intimacy that includes fights with your bitterest enemies, the making up, the death, all that loss and regret. Real intimacy.
The first and most obvious relationship is expounded in the book’s title, Flesh Becomes Word. Yes, in fact, if you are a writer you know with uncanny precision when you are writing something that gets anything close to the concrete. Language can’t drink a cold lemonade on a hot day. Writers don’t have a prayer in hell for getting anywhere near reality. It’s impossible. Silence can. But that has to be kept for another day, and then you’re not a writer anymore, are you? And that’s not the way our world communicates at this particular point in history. You want to tell someone what happened, you either have to talk or write about it. That’s a decision we made many centuries ago and pay for every day, Volck tells us. Because isn’t art, too, once removed?
My lover fills all things with love’s perfume;
but I, distracted, lose the scent in names;
words without sense, vacant experience
Then comes another layer of complexity to the relationships this book explores—the poet and the artist are brothers. Younger brother to Brian, John Volck’’s illustrations, pencil on paper, are thoughtful studies of the human figure and face, and like the poems they walk with, also portray great intimacy. This is thought-provoking and tremendously humane work. A book to give your lover, your best friend, your worst enemy, or someone who needs to believe once more that love—in the flesh—can, and does, save the world.
*If you would like to contact John Volck about purchasing the original book illustrations, his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.