“The Body” by Jenny Boully (2002)

December 10, 2014 | Posted in Essays in America | Tags: , , , ,


Jenny Boully

Jenny Boully is the author of four books of hybrid prose poetry/essays, among these [one love affair] * (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2006), The Book of Beginnings and Endings (Sarabande Books, 2007), and not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2011). Born in Thailand, she has studied at Hollins University, earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Notre Dame, and a Ph.D. in English from the Graduate Center at CUNY. Her work has been published in Boston Review, Seneca Review, Conjunctions, and Tarpaulin Sky. She now teaches poetry and creative nonfiction in the MFA program at Columbia College Chicago. The Body was her first book.


“The Body” is an essay of footnotes. The [apparent main] text itself is absent–each page is blank apart from the footnotes beneath it. One page is entirely blank. Another is all footnotes. There are footnotes to the footnotes, and footnotes about footnotes. It is a meditation on absence through absence, highly self-referential: “Everything that is said is said underneath,” Boully writes: “let it exist this way, concealed”—

Presumably, “The Body” is an account of an affair by Jenny Boully, footnoted by Jenny Boully as well as an unknown editor. Not much is said explicitly. The reader is left with only images and hints of what was lost–which may be, Boully suggests, how the affair (and any affair) is remembered, how any kind of absence is felt. “The Body” suggests that every reference for language, even the body of the poet, constitutes an evasive absence,” writes Christian Bok: “Each note, when left unexplained, implies that the body of any text consists of nothing buy a void–filled with the exegetical projection of our own imagination.”


Seneca Review, the literary journal in which “The Body” first appeared, focuses primarily on poetry and innovative creative nonfiction. In 1997, Seneca Review began publishing the lyric essay, a hybrid form that straddles the line between the lyric poem and the personal essay. “The lyric essay does not expound,” write John D’Agata and Deborah Tall, in their Seneca Review introduction to the lyric essay. It “stalks its subject like quarry but is never content to merely explain or confess…a pursuit with no foreknown conclusion, an arrival that might still leave the writer questioning.”

2002 Slope Editions book cover


“The Body” appears in The Next American Essay in excerpted form, but it was published as a much longer work, on its own, by Slope Editions in 2002. Later it was reprinted by Essay Press in 2007. An excerpt of the essay also appeared in the 2002 edition of The Best American Poetry, edited by Robert Creeley and David Lehman.


Boully, Jenny. The Body: An Essay. Slope Editions, 2002. Print.

Boully, Jenny. “The Body.” The Best American Poetry 2002. Eds. Robert Creeley and David Lehman. Scribner, 2002. Print.

Boully, Jenny. “The Body.” The Next American Essay. Ed. John D’Agata. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2003. 437-66. Print.

Boully, Jenny. The Body: An Essay. Essay Press, 2007. Print.

2007 Essay Press book cover


Bok, Christian. “This Poetic Vacuum.” Maisonneuve. Maisonneuve, 18 Nov. 2002. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.

Jenny, Boully. Jenny Boully. Web. 2 Nov. 2013.

Tall, Deborah and John D’Agata. “The Lyric Essay.” HWS: Seneca Review. Hobart and William Smith Colleges Press. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.


Jenny Boully. Author book cover photo. http://www.jennyboully.com/p/authors-bio.html

2002 Slope Editions book cover.  http://www.slopeeditions.org/index.cfm?p=i.3

2007 Essay Press book cover. http://www.amazon.com/The-Body-Essay-Jenny-Boully/dp/0979118921

Text and images: Panpan Song