Text and Body: A Review of WoO by Renee Angle

Aza Pace

Language itself forms the vital, visceral engine behind WoO, Renee Angle’s new collection of prose poetry. In this creative rewriting of the lost first draft of The Book of Mormon, Angle positions herself as “the bastard great-great-great-grandchild of Joseph Smith, in search of a textline, not a bloodline.” WoO plays language against itself in a lexically dizzying yet musical composition; the words are incantatory, and the book has a whiff of prophecy about it. Yet the linguistic search for connection remains firmly rooted in the body: “Until the breast bare hill, but chewed a deep affliction / affection for the rime drip…Starry séance.” Though it is a textline the author seeks, these muscular poems suggest a fundamental link between text and body, blood and all.

Indeed, much of the verbal play accompanies an investigation into the body. Discovery is often a violent prospect in these poems; one must “Cut away the body wall and the pectoral and pelvic girdles, taper body a triple harmony of crystal bells.” The physicality of Angle’s images is in part what allows WoO to examine religious heritage even in terms of its violently sexist and racist history. The text’s bodily focus also allows the poetry to function as a kind of divination by “means of the Urim and Thummim. The continual sequence of pages—the bioscopic book.”

Angle explores the internal and external, the microscopic and the cosmic on the path to (re)discovery, but the complexities of religious heritage and experience make meaning elusive. Scattered throughout the collection, several sections read as parts of a catechism, with the answers significantly blanked out:

In what tar pit was the footprint?                                                                    A—                                                                                                                               Would you like to buy a vowel?                                                                           A—                                                                                                                               And are descendant of Joseph Smith?                                                             A—.

The answers are lost. They can only be implied, re-envisioned, and the poems know this. They interrogate the efficacy of language, saying, “What blessing has grammar bulbed us to?” Language becomes more and more disturbed, images increasingly layered, so that the text challenges the prophetic voice and the nature of truth: “In the source pure lips of our prophet, Paleolithic tart-eyed teeth squeeze the tush.” In a final catechistic section, Angle disrupts the reliability of the text, the word, and implies that truth and understanding may not coincide:

What truth do you tell Truth, what do you?                                                   A—                                                                                                                               If I am present in a subject position what responsibility                           do I have to the content, to the truth value, of the words                         themselves?                                                                                                               A—.

Ultimately, WoO offers a compelling voyage into words and narrative that echoes with the clash of theology and heresy. The text both seeks and disrupts narrative, and Angle’s final line leaves us at the edge of story and body: “I come from a long line of narrative poets. I come to suck your blood.”