Argos Books / June 1, 2018
Praise for The Fat Sonnets:
The Fat Sonnets are greathearted, wickedly brilliant, and wise. Samantha Zighelboim writes with rare passion and exactitude: she can cure, or kill what ails you, and yet she sings from the soul, which is beyond diagnosis, at once perfect; eternal and savagely hungry since whenever eternity began. Hilarious and cruel, every page swells with compassion. I love this book. It is deeply nutritious. It will feed you.
Which stories do we tell, and which do we only pretend to tell? Samantha Zighelboim’s searing debut insists that words are flesh, that if there’s “no space for body on the barstool,” there will be “no space for body in the poetry.” In these poems, the fat body feeds on and feeds a slippery surfeit of language: Zighelboim reminds us that this body is made not just of “late night binge fantasy delivery orders,” but also of etymology, dreams, “petty silks,” diagnostic euphemisms, interspecies bonds, and “the fountain/ pen of a spinster.” Funhouse-mirror-reflections of Bernadette Mayer’s “skinny sonnets,” these fat sonnets swell with longing: a line becomes a paragraph; a poem splits down the middle like a calving iceberg, a calving body, a manatee floating “in that weightless, boring way.” But this book is anything but boring. Zighelboim’s narrator is too quick, too witty, too self-aware. “I am very charming sometimes,” she reminds us, slyly. “I am a perfect fucking blossom.”
According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, over 75% of adult men and 60% of adult women in the U.S. are overweight. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over one-third of all U.S. adults are obese. As a country, as a culture, we are, in a word, fat. Marketdata Research, a market research firm, tells us that we spend in excess of $60 billion annually in desperate effort not to be. We sometimes succeed, but often only briefly. Mostly, we fail. We stay fat, each of us in response to a complex of genetic and environmental factors as distinctive as our fingerprints. But the commonality of our fatness has not raised awareness of its causes or brought about acceptance or even tolerance. On the contrary: we live in a fat-phobic, fat-stigmatizing society, and Samantha Zighelboim is calling us out. “Fat people are / the most visible invisibles,” she writes in The Fat Sonnets, one of the boldest, most affecting, and most necessary debuts in recent memory. The heart at work in these poems is “so big a person / could swim through / our arteries,” but it is also divided against itself, vacillating between self-loathing and self-celebration, both determined to seek its pleasures and to punish itself for having them. These poems are brutally candid, plangent, heart-wrenching, uncompromisingly beautiful and beautiful in their refusal to compromise, and they are also playful, provocative, impeccably edited, formally inventive and outrageously funny. Moreover, as specific as The Fat Sonnets is in its concerns, it also reveals Zighelboim to be an astute observer of the human subject generally: of how we are both determined and distorted by societal and material forces; of how we might prove nothing more than, but are never simply, our bodies; and of how those of us who can’t, or won’t, conform to the prevailing human paradigms of success can find profound, sustaining identifications elsewhere, even outside our messed-up species, as with the giant squid or blue whale. “(L)et me age and die / as gracelessly as possible,” she writes, “Like the trunk of an ancient / giant sequoia / gnarled and wrinkled and fat.” That sounds like winning to me. And that’s what this book is: not merely an achievement, but a victory.
(Cover art by Simone Kearney)