When giving advice to young poets, Sarah Lindsay speaks of “sneakily” writing about oneself by way of writing about something in a larger context. While Lindsay’s poetry is more conversational than confessional, critics have often described it as having a personal quality that transcends the obvious topic of the work. Lindsay incorporates history, myth, and anthropology into her poetry, which tends to star animals, humans, and locations. The actual topics of her poems tend to be broad but are generally based in history, behavior, and discovery. Her longer works are always divided into three sections. In each book, the middle section is a thematic series of poems, which usually employs an extended metaphor that creates a fictional place that is explored throughout the series of poems, while the first and last sections touch more loosely on the theme of the center section. Lindsay attempts to tie the history together with the present while questioning and commenting on behaviors and ideas.
As the title, Primate Behavior, suggests, the first of Lindsay’s full-length works focuses on exploring and combining animal and human behaviors. The collection spans centuries, sometimes in a single poem, but Lindsay always connects the subject matter to the present in some way. Primate Behavior is divided into three sections. Only the middle section, “Circus Merk,” is titled. Lindsay gave the section this name because the music of composer Joseph Merk reminded her of circus music. The section consists of poems about a fictional circus. The performers, human and animal, and sometimes the audience star in the poems, which relate the story of one person or describe a specific event, and combine to create a crowded and bustling circus. As in the rest of the work, history is fluid. Although most of the poems seem to take place in a recognizable present, some of them obviously do not, such as “Circus Merk 25,000 b.c.,” which discusses cave paintings but also includes characters seen in poems set in the present. For example, in “Elephant Waltz,” Dido appears as one of the performing elephants, while in “Circus Merk 25,000 b.c.,” she is a mammoth who watches the cave painter, also referred to as the ringmaster. Dido also has a poem of her own, “Dido Summons the Beetles,” which concludes the section. The repetition of characters in multiple poems helps to tie this series together into a whole.
The first and third sections of Primate Behavior focus on people and animals. Sometimes the line between person and animal is blurred, while at other times, it is quite clear. In “Cheese Penguins,” the last poem of the collection, scientists steal penguin eggs and leave cheese tins. A penguin, knowing she should have an egg to care for, uses a tin to replace her stolen egg. As in many of Lindsay’s poems, which have a beginning in something factual,...
(The entire section is 1221 words.)