Hot on the heels of her debut collection, Ephemeris (Nine Arches Press, 2014), Dorothy Lehane’s Places of Articulation (Dancing Girl Press) continues her exploration of the physiological body by looking at various neurological conditions that effect speech. I admire Dorothy’s poetry because it is both experimental and about something worth exploring. Here she is broadly concerned with conditions of, such as irrealis and echolalia, or impediments to, speech from a neurological perspective. It is possible to argue that such impediments are also borne from social conditions, and indeed Lehane immediately locates aphasia in a social context:
erase bashful in stutter, or erasure
yours, yours, a monstrous infancy
trespass careful, or fathers will
Lehane’s poem exploits the double meaning of aphasia as an inability to understand speech and an inability to produce speech, and is thus able to gesture at a range of possible associations and connections to produce a beguiling poem. Her pithy poems encompass concerns with phonetics, semantics, prattle, brain asymmetry, broken syntax, as they focus upon places of articulation and words formed and undone.
seems the world rebounds
words run their course
long organic death proliferates
for all the wrongs
said to be still surviving
your dead Latin
in your dead mouth
Lehane’s language work is strong. I would like to read more stretching of words to convey rupture, displacement and the struggle towards utterance. Sufferers of, for example, cerebral palsy and motor neurone diseases have speech disorders, show environmental and sensory awareness and do effect sonic and other responses within a wide range of understanding. Her poems are sinewy and effective. ‘Aleph’ is particularly strong with its musicality and rhythm effortlessly taking the sense, and reader, forward:
how poor in brushed poverty
acoustic ways to find all morning we kill
for a little letter privilege
fervent inceptions we strain to hear
by divine name this aleph so long to sage
recall in all its plexus in all its cursing
The final poem in the sequence, ‘goodnight, Malaysian three seven zero’ is a collage, rich in language play, of the last utterances of dying people. Part of the fun of the poem’s arc comes from assigning dying words to someone from the list of cultural figures footnoted at the poem’s end as it seamlessly unfolds.
This is another wonderful chapbook from the Dancing Girl Press.
Lehane is a poet well worth following.
David Caddy December 3rd 2014