Reviewed by Pratyusha Prakash
—Natalie Wee, ‘Our Bodies & Other Fine Machines’ (Words Dance Publishing, 2016)
“The most beautiful part of your body is where it’s headed. & remember, loneliness is still time spent with the world.” Ocean Vuong’s lines from ‘Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong’ are the epigraph to Natalie Wee’s poetry book ‘Our Bodies & Other Fine Machines’. It’s a fitting choice — in this small volume, Wee explores ideas of the body, self-love, and engaging with the world on a public and a personal level.
Wee makes use of familiar images to bring a sense of intimacy to the book. It feels deeply private, almost like reading a journal accidentally. Each poem has been carefully crafted, words delicately chosen — and yet it reads like a chronicle. This is particularly visible when Wee refers to others, more distant “her”s — “Her arm, bright with/ sweat, near enough to radiate dangerous heat”. It sounds natural and reflexive. What saves it from being errant is the structure of the line.
When Wee surprises, she does so with astonishing clarity.
Although the book maintains a constant tone, there are lines that stand out: “—two lips opening/ like petals in a blaze”. This ability to make the familiar unfamiliar is something I wish there were more of in the book. I look for it with great excitement. When Wee surprises, she does so with astonishing clarity.
The book turns public at important moments, lines that particularly resonate against the backdrop of current events. This is made explicit when, in ‘Either, Or, Other’, Wee writes: “I practice unraveling/ the secret of being queer/brown/woman / separately so maybe I can be happier/ with two-thirds of a full life”. Separation, within and without, is tinged with pathos.
‘Our Bodies & Other Fine Machines’ is, most importantly, a very personal call for multiplicity. Its fragmentation gives it the impression of a Japanese fan: a wealth of perspectives, intricate etchings in every panel. It’s also a call for survival in a world where minorities remain marginalia; Wee encourages a focus on endurance, a claim for space and attention to the self.