The Best Poem I Read This Month: Sarah Sgro’s “Body as a Plant Expanding”

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I’ve read Sarah Sgro’s poetry for about four years, and remain a consistent witness to its various evolutions and concentrations concerning femininity, food, sexuality, and waste. In the past year, Sgro’s work has flourished, wreaked havoc, and run amok through many journals. Because her pieces keep sharpening their knives, it can prove difficult to write through, but this challenge proves to be an abundant endeavor for any reader. Her spirit is a mutating aura that unsettles and unhinges its jaw.

Sarah Sgro currently attends the MFA program in poetry at the University of Mississippi, where over the past few years a number of poets practicing in experimental poetic modes have made a home in degradation molds, whetting a practice that works in the worn-down world while foraging for new forays into revolution: a peak into their journal Yalobusha Review will begin to make meat of my brief gloss.

In her new poem for Glittermob, Sarah Sgro receives and rebels against fucked-up flowering formations of flesh. “Body as a Plant Expanding” details the process of a radical rush through soil, the webbing, clearing, and careening of Anthropocene metaphor.

The speaker of the poem practices an arrival into air unsettled, where the foremost feeling folds into: “it’s hard to be aroused by anything but dirt.” What I think is most successful about Sgro’s performances is that they never settle for fetishizing moments, persons, or environments; though a short prose piece, “Body as a Plant Expanding” undergoes transubstantiation again and again. I use “transubstantiation” because body and blood becoming spiritual food and waste and back again are the principle players within the poem, as we begin with a kind of sacrifice after an admission of absence:

Everyone’s baring fangs that I don’t have…Look how sleek my throat and tongue…

all these fragrant innards that I offer up.

Sgro’s speaker at first feels at fault for being fangless (or defanged?) and toothless, but then the poem pivots into an announcement of what the body does claim and hold onto. “Listen,” the speaker continues. “I have tried my hardest to be gruesome. / Consumed the romance of what’s decomposed.” The composition of decomposition and its aesthetic championing make sense to the speaker, but in a final analysis feel unreal, like the “monster” the speaker “no longer wants to be.” A celebration of “romantic” abjection is crossed out because waste is still found wanting, still destructive no matter how many art objects are crafted, as the speaker remembers: “Clogged my toilet and saved photos of the bowl brimming…every piece of me you’ve never seen.”

The poem then moves into a dissection of “gross shame.” After relating the first experience of orgasm, the filth-celebration becomes fear: “would not even stick a finger in [my skin]. Forget about what I have soiled.” What we call dirty and what we call clean intermingle constantly, and the definitional boundaries are determined by us. What happens when these boundaries are transgressed, confessed, and acknowledged with ownership? And so the last movement of the prose lines occupy a feeling of self-possessed unboundedness, a “sighing open like / a fucking flower.”

When the piece finishes with “I’m opening I’m opening I’m / opening for you,” Sgro’s speaker has laid claim to all of its bloomings, blossomings, openings, and directions. While, yes, there is an opening for a second-person, the line-break operates to open up the person herself. “I’m opening I’m” becomes a translation of wild multiplication, an I am opening “I am.” Instead of the “inverted teeth,” “egg wash” stomachs, and broken bathrooms, the final figure in “Body as a Plant Expanding” is a desire-in-action, the twisting upward propulsion of light “posing wildly in my bedroom mirror.”