-Reviewed by Andrew Bailey-
So it turns out one way to incline this reviewer positively to your book is to pack it like the sweets I used to get from the corner shop. We know this thanks to Miel, from whom a pamphlet arrived that I wanted to praise even before seeing it, simply because it came in a white paper bag with serrations on the opening. What came out was Laressa Dickey’s mimesis, synaptic, which lives up to Miel’s mission statement by being “Difficult, interesting, intelligent, deeply felt”.
It’s a pamphlet comprising ten brief prose poems, none troubling the lower half of the page, which distribute facets and glimpses disparate enough to feel the gaps in the sense, and close enough to fill them through inference. These electric connections are, I guess, where the title comes from, in their mimicry of the little leaps across synapses that make up the process of thought; not decisive, business-decision type thought, but a productive kind of dwelling without resolution. The gaps mean the synapses keep firing on re-reading, and I have been re-reading. They also mean the poems ask for enough readerly interaction to make this review more personal than usual – the backstory you bring means you may end up reading a noticeably different collection from me with mine. Which may be to spike my guns almost before I begin, but having done so, I quote:
‘Wind chill blows the crocus off its root. When will the women in this hollow
speak to each other? Even Rosie the dog has died. [...]‘
The opening sentence starts out descriptive, but is knocked into potential metaphor by the silent women, their coldness toward each other, if they are to be connected. What are we to make of the crocus, then? what is the tender thing if not literally a crocus? The dog, named as she was for a flower, resonates with that, but the “Even” makes her an addition to whatever fragility has suffered. The ‘When” is perhaps answered later in the piece, “when clouds relocate, and creek water quiets”, then again, “when gales skirt down hills, maybe then”. These are prophetic timescales, on the “till Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane” level, which invite attempts, certainly from me, at trying to work out when this is – are we to think that clouds are constantly relocating, or are we after a moment to when all the clouds are gone, or the right clouds are here? Is the creek’s silence that is to go with it something that’s even possible, and does it matter when the second answer undermines the first, and itself with its “maybe”?
Count those question marks. As a reader, if you can enjoy this state of uncertainty, you can revel in it here – and I have, whilst being aware of friends who would be infuriated by its lack of resolution. It’s a state that’s enjoyed by both of the supporting statements on the back of the pamphlet and on its webpage, with Maria Damon calling the chapbook “pleasantly tentative” and Arlene Kim explicitly contradicting herself in each new paragraph. As a reviewer I feel a bit like I’m short-changing you by not pinning it down to a definite description, so it’s nice to have precedent.
And description isn’t everything. The second poem starts out by describing people in a market in terms of their poster-paint colours – “Three monks in tangerine robes walk in rain the market’s length… A man riding a red motorcycle wearing a sky-blue poncho passes” – and closes by noting that “When night comes, the colors will quicken, tangle.” The quickening is where the tentative note I’ve been enjoying comes in.
With the colours unreliable, it’s the weight of the body in the centre of the piece that remains – “Each step they step they step to gravity.” There’s several uses of the body in the pamphlet – a brother’s big arms, a schoolboy who “jabbed a pencil into the flesh above my left knee” (‘Every book a man book. In’), and the final poem’s “Gravity teaches the spine’s length”. Dickey’s biography notes that she is a somatic worker and dancer as well as a poet, which may be the source of the attention to the body, and refers in her interview at Miel’s site to becoming “interested in the process of acquisition of new syntax and new vocabulary and in my mind/body’s response to that—the disorientation that comes from total immersion.” Whatever the source, it shows a collection that knows the mind not only thinks, but responds to and steers the body, holds the personality, and thus invites readers to share the holistic experience.
There’s even a stage direction to the reader, which might move past an invitation to an insistence that the poem should be inhabited: “Cover the mind with a hat. Is it here (point to heart) or here (point to pelvis)?” That’s only one of the moments of direct address – there are questions, instructions, statements such as “You can’t keep saying you ate mackerel out of a can” (‘Cover the mind with a hat’). Judging by the previous appearance of the tinned mackerel in a poem at Cerise Press, the address of ‘you’ is also an address to the poet, and thus the poems offer a sense of inhabiting the poet herself.
If that sounds like overplaying the hand, it’s probably my reporting on where the collection has taken me, rather than on the thing that does the taking, as I ought. The closing poem does ask, though, to “say where you go if you know.” While I’m pleasurably unsure if I know for sure that’s where I am, it is where the poems leave me wanting to say.