The Hollins Critic reviews Appetite

Appetite Jean-Mark Sens. Red Hen (CDC, dist.), $11.95 (98p) ISBN 1-888996-98-6

Jean-Mark Sens serves us a world that we thought we knew. Each of Sens’ lines twists the lens of language to bring the world into focus, blur it, and bring it back into focus that reveals a world we have never seen before, but one we would like to inhabit. The first line of “Squid,” which opens the book, thrusts a creature “Freckled like a blotter” with “thin pellucid skin / of innumerable Rorschach spots” into our faces. Sens maintains his intensity throughout the collection while examining everything from sardines to Max Jacob to soap.

Appetite restores integrity to the often misused phrase “things as they are.” Sens represents the external appearance of things, but he also delivers the essence of those things to his readers; in “Urchin,” the speaker takes on in his palm and feels “a lightness, not animal, not vegetal / I feel of both realms.” Sens, then, takes us “beneath the spikes” to “one round body / purplish globe like an eye encasing a billion egg sack,” which is indigo, orange, sea amethyst licorice to the taste.” The poem not only allows us to live in both realms, it also lets us taste the world below the spikes, inside of the “purplish globe.” We briefly become one with the world as it is.

In Appetite, the act of consumption unifies the consumer and the object being consumed; they become one creature as in “Catfish” when the fish being eaten “returns small grins of its fins / in the spirit of your smile.” The act of consumption becomes an act of love. Of course, desire leaves an emptiness once the object of desire has been consumed, and Sens renders that feeling with great precision in the third section of the book, “After Love.” He writes, “chewing on desire, your lips move, / silent anagram, / cold opal of the fruit bowl on the table,” in “Tongue.”

Jean-Mark Sens uses words in new and interesting ways throughout Appetite, which the first stanza of “Inside/Outside” nicely illustrates:

Wind gives changing tremors over the island,

shifts leaves adumbrations the sun letters over ground.

Wide and uncontrollable drafts engulf voices from the avenue,

the city speaks shrills along your spine,

spiky as fishbone spearheads. Young Wilfredo,

only a painter in spirit, slumbering in a light blind room:

outside the Cuban sun beats on the streets

full of the din of passerby, and sellers haggling,

“an infernal row” you recall.

These lines offer a fresh experience of both the world and the language and spotlight Sens’ sensitive ear. One comes away from Appetite with an appreciation of the possibilities of language and its ability to provide access to new realms of experience. The poems in Appetite treat common objects with a sense of awe, but never slip into sentimentality. Reading the book is an intensely sensual experience, and it is with the senses that Sens navigates through all the layers of phenomena to reveal a core in the natural world that closely resembles our own. He leads us to “here and the distant here.”

— Jordan Tyler Sanderson