Animal Magnetism

First Edition, Published in 2011 by Pearl Editions

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Chosen for the Pearl Poetry Prize by Debra Marquart, Animal Magnetism “investigates, in language as rich, complex, and nuanced as the body itself, the unlit interiors of physical and emotional anatomy.”

Marquart continues: “Borne out of the author’s own deep searching following a serious illness, each poem, each line, feels deeply earned…While these poems are beautifully-made and sometimes funny or painful, they are also brimming with information…Here the narrator functions as a trained docent, leading the reader on a private tour of the wonders and curiosities that document the early explorations of medicine and anatomy, in which the inner workings of the human body were first opened to the human eye.”

Book Reviews

From The Hollins Critic, by Elizabeth Poliner:

“The fact of illness, Roberts’s own and that of a dear friend for whome she cared and to who in death this collection is dedicated, quietly winds its way through the lines of these observant, poignant poems…Juxtaposed brilliantly with her poems inspired by exhibits at medical museums is a poetic series entitled ‘My Imaginary Husband.’ Marriage, the poet reminds us as she describes her fantasy husband’s testicles (“Husband, someone packed your groceries poorly”), his curly hair (“soft half-moons”), or how he likes to cook breakfast (“in nothing but underwear”) is a most intimate union of two bodies. Often hilarious, and bursting with original imagery (“[e]ach night your stocks accrue/a deep and dreamless sleep/spooning next to my bonds”), the poems in this series, on the surface so distinct from the medical poems, nevertheless continue to explore the human body–as exposed and vulnerable in marriage, the poems suggest, as when on formal display at museums.”

From Rattle, by Mike Maggio:

Animal Magnetism takes the reader on an unexpected and fascinating tour – a tour of the human body via an exploration of unusual museums and peculiar collections of medical memorabilia. From Philadelphia to Florence, from London to Istanbul, the poems in the collection escort us on a curious journey and, like a lyrical ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not!,’ present us with an amalgamation of the odd and the amazing while, at the same time, exploring physical frailty and the limitations of the human body.”

Sample Poems

Discovered by Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815)

Come, Doctor,
with your iron rods,
your magnetized water,
and bathe me. Touch me
with your fingertips,
and spark my animal essence.
Tune the fluid of my soul.

Across planetary space
electricity leaps,
the vital ether that sustains
our human organs.
In balance, the soul transmits
freely an ecstatic song.
Unbalanced, the ether
loses its harmony, harbors
sickness and decay.

I want to be healed!
Bring on your devices,
strap me in your wires. Bewitch.
Make the dry channels surge
as they once did, call down
the very powers of the black planets.
Mesmerize me.


The National Museum of Health and Medicine, Washington, DC

Nearly four feet tall, the woman,
carved from wood,
painted and waxed,

has bendable joints.
Beneath the wooden

her flesh has been stripped
to reveal removable organs,
liver, kidney, colon, all —

painted mauve and ruby and ocher
and labeled carefully
in kanji.

What magic do you hoard, woman,
what secret lore
in your ankles and knuckles,

in your jape and joke,
your vapor?
The face is calm, eyes

open, but not too wide,
eyelids giving
a languorous gaze

that must have reassured
the clients who came
to point at where they hurt,

hoping a pill or salve
the apothecary mixed
in his wide-mouthed alabaster mortar

could relieve the pains
in their own chests,
return them to their days—

like wooden shapes so neatly classed,
so precisely ordered—
healed and whole.