Beast Body Epic by Amanda Earl

In 2009, Amanda Earl became very ill. Beast Body Epic is a book encompassing an epic journey that takes place in fractured time and space. It is one long poem honouring life and death, the sordid, transcendent, and passionate places in between. It has eight connected parts, each of those made from many. It is a book about one woman whose life is a thread that suddenly frays into dysfunction, unnamed illnesses, long medical words, pain, surgeries, and psychosis brought on by drugs and confinement.

"1. 30/10/2009: I come down with something. We aren’t sure if 
it’s the flu or a broken heart.

2. 4/11/2009: Charles calls 911 after I am unable to breathe.

 3. He says I look like a deer about to die after being shot." (VIII)

Despite her body’s rebellion, its crumbling, its uncertainties and setbacks, there is something in this poet that wants life, that keeps her here:

“ I simply wanted to be home
first afternoon
my bare feet
on the carpet
so soft I kept rubbing them
over and over the rug…” (VI)

 “ my ambition/ die old” (V). 

Death is a main character, arriving in various guises, receding and returning without warning:

“I find it difficult to breathe

at bottom of stairs behind a gauze curtain 

a looming shape

silence it says

I manage to turn onto left side to face it

if I take its hand what will happen	“ (III)

We find here also stories of a host of supporting characters: ambulances, hospitals, healthcare workers, friends, lovers, community—how all those things help to keep fragile connections to life from breaking apart.

“….It is daytime on a weekday.
My husband is beside me in the cab.
He holds my hand. The driver speeds.
I try to hang on. I take deep breaths….” (VI)

As readers, we become lost along the way with the poet, moving from moments of transformative lucidity through fever dreams, wandering in the territories between living and dying with no signposts forward, no way of knowing what is mirage, what is illusion, what is truth, what is real. There are times of terror and horror, moments of laughter and great beauty:

“ I am a beast with downy feathers this mausoleum can’t hold me I
will bludgeon its doors with my stubborn imagination this body is a
cloistered monster but the mind " (III)

The form of the book gives shape to the journey. Amanda Earl is a highly accomplished visual poet. Some of the beauty in this book lies in the words; some of it comes through in how they are arranged on the pages. Her near-death experiences are conveyed in prose; in conventionally organized poetry in lines and stanzas; in words shaped into graphic images; in words strung out across pages that might seem haphazard, except they aren’t.

“don’t let them possess you:

clock highway coffee pot

I am supple feathered ready for fight	“(V)

Each person’s encounters with illness, with staring Death in the face, is unique. As with much good writing, out of unique circumstances arises a sense of community, of shared possibilities and experiences. For many of us who have been there and/or who have companioned others through life-threatening experiences, there will be many moments of recognition in this book.

“        I am ashamed to admit that I was afraid.
          That I am still afraid. Every November my last. “ (VII)  

How many poems have any of us read about an ileostomy? And yet, every time we go to the grocery store, we may be walking by someone who has one. I finished reading Beast Body Epic filled with gratitude and respect for Amanda Earl’s capacity to find ways to speak of the almost unspeakable and to write about things that cannot easily be written about. This book has been fourteen years in the making. The time has been well spent.

Amanda Earl (she/her) is a feminist writer, visual poet, editor and publisher who lives on Algonquin Anishinaabeg traditional territory.

  • Publisher: AngelHousePress
  • Limited Edition of 212 copies
  • ISBN: 978-1-926786-20-9
  • Price: $20.00 CAD

Susan Wismer (she/her) is grateful to live on Treaty 18 territory at the southern shore of Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada with two human partners and a very large dog.She is a poet whose recent workhas been published in These Small Hours(ed. Lorna Crozier) a Wintergreen Press chapbook,Pinhole Poetry,Orbis International Literary Journal,Poetry Plans(Bell Press),Qwerty,Prairie Fir,,and inPoets in Response to Peril (eds. Penn Kemp,RichardSitoski).