Amy Narneeloop

Ugly Duckling Presse, 2015

Continuing her Inventory sequence, in which she catalogues everything she “owns” from her breasts to her clothes to her memories, Amy Narneeloop’s chapbook Hair wonders whether one can consider a body and its parts private property when they are so available for public scrutiny. Narneeloop’s complicated regard for her body and what it signifies emerges in descriptions that appeal to external standards for guidance, only to become muddled by these standards, whether the source is the cosmetic industry or her mother: “There was someone in my life who told / me everything I was I wasn’t, and everything I wasn’t I was, and / everything I could be I couldn’t,” she writes in the first poem, “Breasts.”

As part of a recurring rhetorical strategy that tempers sobering declarations with humorous candor, the next line replaces “BREASTS” with “tits,” which her mother “insisted…were not as big as I said they were and that I needed to get a different-size bra.”

“My mother’s dysmorphia had enveloped her children,” she realizes, and this inherited body self-consciousness blooms into shame, the title of the following poem: “SHAME is Gravity; I am Pendulum. I’m on the one side, and I wild / out, I go too far, sicken into it, and then tip back and it’s everyone / else’s fault again.”

In moments like this, Narneeloop creates a tension that hints at the simultaneous sense of intimacy with and alienation from her body by pitting words’ commonness against uncommon application, here enlisting “wild” and “sicken” as phrasal verbs. The book’s repetition of “inventoried” items in capital letters further highlights this defamiliarization.

In the title poem, Narneeloop reveals the vulnerability that results from chafing between the social and personal appraisal of her speaker: “All Black people can spot a mixed child with / a white mother. The pathetic HAIR gives us away,” she writes, spiting her mother for not teaching her to “tame it…into Black girl HAIR.”

The book itself tries to “tame” the knots of identity politics with simple, occasionally snarky language and a loose narrative style. Each poem tracks Narneeloop’s speaker’s thoughts as they race toward revelation as if from a newly tapped vein of emotion. By the end, the speaker has achieved shaky reconciliation with her body and its past: “Now no one knows they used to laugh at me when I walked into Mr. Eby’s class. That girl is taken care of now.”