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Creative Engagement with Olivia Cronk’s Skinhorse (Action Books, 2012)

In Olivia Cronk’s new full length book Skinhorse, we are brought into a strange array of the animal, the grotesque. A horse’s skin is its largest organ, a complex organ at that. The skin has many layers of cells. These cells work together with nerves and blood vessels beneath it in order to make successful skin-to-major-organ connectivity. There are also many different bacteria and parasites that live in the skin, on the skin. These details about skin are important to include because just as the skin is a multi-purposed density with varying tenacities and ways of making healthful functionality, so, Cronk’s Skinhorse works on many levels and by way of many mechanisms (its competences) in order to present us with an array/ density of the animal.

Skinhorse has within it  (even on the level of basic presence) so many animals (I have not included all of them here): fox, dove, “bad-paw crocodile”, lemur, “albino deer”, rats, “wet robins”, mollusk, snails, gnat, boa, eel, owl dog, beast, worm, salmon, cougar, “naked squids”, “bowl of eaten doves,” lizard, “is there a worm in wound?,” phoenix. Is this text a mysterious pursuit of the totem animal (“crowds of telepaths”)? It is often instructed by shamans (re working with totem animals) that one follow a few general steps: work with silences, research, observe and reflect. Because I initially felt a barrage of animality when entering and moving through Cronk’s Skinhorse, I intentionally utilized some of the above suggested steps. While engaging those steps a few impressions came to me.

In Skinhorse, I noticed removal and subversion of the pronoun “we.”  I wondered about this as a device for increasing the sense of being destabilized? Is increased destabilization what people relate to their totem animal for? In other words, to increase a sense (while moving through the text) that we are not really grounded–that we are in a naming and movement where “devil meat” exists and can be juxtaposed against statements like “ribbon of noose” or “violet mouth scarf.” Is all naming not a process of pronouncing or enacting the “violent mouth scarf” in order to “eat [] all at once?” If we eat it all, all at once (including the totems) where will that leave us?

The slow blotting out of the pronoun “we” takes us—does not leave us. Takes us to a place where the he and the she show themselves and some of their relating (“I am you, the experiments will continue”/ “they are she in a window”/ “the city in chains”)—“eternity’s twins, who are as wild as mirrors.”–“Husband your wife is calling from the yard again,” wife, who is also an “androgyne daughter” lifting veils. She says “I am indeed a nurse but I am wearing out”–“I am soon to be torn” and the scene, the showing, the totem in states of application (?) “unwifes” her.

I wonder if the underlying scrutinizing (by way of intended subversions) of the pronoun “we” here, has to do with what often comes between a he and a she, when they perform as a propagating heterosexual collective (?): a child (“I came to cringe at the miniature eggs rolling upon the tiniest spoon”). Is this where we are taken as “unwife[-ing]” happens? To fear regarding or reluctance about the offspring? To the psychic/ physical reverberations re violent and messy birthings? How the life prior to the arrival of the offspring will never be able to be returned to again? The he and the she continue, with abruptness, “smack[ing] it out on a leather wall.”

Is it more or less feminist to root in and express oneself as an animal? In animal ways? I imagine the she down on all fours in her domestic backyard (white picket fence included) chewing grass, before coming in and making an intense roaring sound to which the “husband” does not particularly know how to respond.



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