There is something mesmerising and unattainable at once about Skin Divers, Anne Michaels' first poetry collection since the astounding success of her novel, Fugitive Pieces in 1997. It is as beautiful and engaging as "the dark unlocking", the way she describes the photograph the lovers take of night waves in the last poem. The concerns of love and loss recur in this volume as she brings "the chemistry of looking" to human passion. Michaels moves gracefully between the exact drawing of an image, "Frozen sparklers of Queen Anne's lace", which has painterly precision, to a more diagrammatic approach, as scientific as a clutch of model atoms, "A jagged tube of ions pins us to the sky". She keenly explores the point where atomism and animism meet, exquisitely caught in "Fontanelles" as she waits for dark, "impossible to record", the moment day becomes night or embryo becomes foetus. Darkness is a dominant theme and yet for Michaels, "love's dark field" is restorative rather than gloomy. One character's voice is "more distinct in darkness", while another sees renewal in the night: "The same loneliness that closes us / opens us again. Like hair loosened by the sea, / slowly the darkness opens into darkness."
Michaels reminds us that we live in darkness as much as in light and "dark with hope" is a powerful and refreshing repositioning of metaphor. The irreducibility of love is well observed in "Into Arrival", where two lovers are reunited and "when he finds her / there is room at last / for everyone they love" and their love, because it is broken from love is "like thesea/from the sea". "Last Night's Moon" allows her paradoxical genius full rein, from the setting up of the rhythm of the "Unbroken/ broken sea", tothe hands which manipulate "in the darkness, silver bromide / of desire darkening skin with light." The words "If love wants you" are repeated like a caveat, until she strikes with "If love wants you, suddenly your past / is obsolete science". It is no surprise that Michaels was drawn to scientist Marie Curie and her "glowing distillation of time" as a persona for a later poem in the book. This is a wonderful journey into love's fantastic work and the body's material comprehension of it. --Cherry Smyth