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Claire Donato

Claire Donato lives in Brooklyn, NY and is the author of Burial (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2013), and The Second Body (Poor Claudia, 2016). Recent writing has appeared or is forthcoming in BOMB, Encyclopedia L-Z, Fanzine, Ninth Letter, PEN America, and PLINTH. With Jeff T. Johnson, she has collaborated on Special America, a site-specific multimedia intervention. She holds an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University, received a fiction fellowship from the Millay Colony for the Arts, and was a finalist for the National Poetry Series. She currently curates WordHack—a monthly series focused on digital language art—at Babycastles Gallery in Manhattan, and is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Architecture Writing and BFA Writing Programs at Pratt Institute.


"What is The Second Body? Alice in the pit of despair, humming pop songs and practicing inversions. The ocean, sex, void, women. Dead chickens. “Doves at the edge of the lake / Falling across the age of the computer.” A bomb going off on the patriarchy. Gloom and glee, bones and teeth: this is how Claire Donato is trying to describe the world to you."

– Kate Durbin

"When a speaker in Claire Donato’s poem “Grief Interlude” says, “I care in different meanings, none of / Which are paraphrasable,” we’re getting to the root of these poems, which will try everything to articulate the broken and reverent heart that made them. These poems are thick with music and formally rangy and sort of amazing for the things they actually did to me, among which: hurt; puzzle; astonish; delight. Which is to say—they moved me. They move me. Hard to paraphrase that too."

– Ross Gay

"Generous, violent, open, and dark, The Second Body continuously lays clear a self-other, and that self-other continuously extends into the universe. As a person, and a reader, I feel very thankful for that, to be in that kind of space, in that kind of literature."

– Amina Cain



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The Second Body

Women in the Study Reported Feeling Pain


Sometimes, when I’m having trouble expressing myself, I wish that I could somehow give people access to my brain, so that they could experience what it’s like in there for a while. I consider how my mind would work as a piece of art or literature. I repeat the phrase publish my brain to myself. With The Second Body, Claire Donato has succeeded in publishing hers. By opening this book you are submerging yourself in a mind. Thoughts and ideas flood in through your ears and nose. Words bully their way through your pores. Your entire being becomes saturated. You are at once inside of the book/mind and it is inside of you. While you explore its passages and personality, it is probing you at the same time. I had the disconcerting feeling that the book was creating a mold of my own mind, studying it and making adjustments.

In her blurb of the book, Kate Durbin asks, “What is The Second Body?” This is a valid question. While this collection is full of bodies, they are rarely identified. The focus is not on their external features but the experience of being inside them. There in no joy to that experience in these poems. Just as pain is one of the inherent features of having a body, pain is a feature of this book. Durbin’s question is answered in the title poem, where Donato writes, “We can expect painful experiences (the first body)./ The second body is the suffering.” This suffering takes a range of forms, from the everyday (“Later, at home, a translucent blister”), to the more unexpected (“Antlers germinate like lumps and extend outward from my mind”), but it is all female suffering.

It seems clear that The Second Body is the female body. The title a reference to Eve being created after Adam, the literal second body, or an echo of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. But, as should be expected, the title refers inward as well: there is plenty of doubling and mirroring happening here. Throughout the collection, the speaker refers to “My friend Claire”, suggesting that this voice doesn’t belong to Claire Donato but to some second, unknown body. And bodies aren’t the only things that are twinned. In the poem “The Second Body Is a Shield”, Donato writes, “Imagine a pure gold ring. Divide it in half, then keep/ Dividing and dividing and dividing.” This type of multiplication by division appears throughout the book, but another example comes from this same poem: “Now she carries a dense/ Second body in her brain, a second body not unlike/ The first”. The woman herself is divided in two. So perhaps The Second Body isn’t simply the female body but the imagined female body, which in itself has been the cause of plenty of pain.

Although The Second Body focuses on pain, that is not its only preoccupation. This is a book of obsessions. In addition to bodies and pain, it is also full of time, language, architecture, the environment. Donato is even preoccupied by obsession itself as she writes about cataloguing and exhibition. But everything always returns to the body. These other things can only be experienced through the mediation of a body. And so boys become horses and women mutate into light and tables. Death is ever present in the collection, from the epigraphs at the front of the book to “Manifesto La Terre / Mori”, the title of the final poem. But while death may be the end of a person, it is not the end of a body, so the book continues forward as the corpses fall behind it.

No matter which of her obsessions she is focusing in on, Donato treats her subject with a light, deft hand. One note I made while reading was: “Assured voice. Masterful. Unexpected turns.” Whereas I often have trouble expressing myself, with these poems Donato shows no such difficulty. She is always in complete control, not only an expert on whichever subject she is addressing at any given time but also approaching it in the perfect way, whether that is scientific jargon or humorous line breaks, eight words scattered across a page or lines so long they must be printed landscape. The emergence of a writer with such command of both form and content is rare and it should be celebrated when it does occur. Having mastered both body and mind, I have no idea what Donato will do next, but I’m excited to find out.

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