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Dorothy Lehane’s Places of Articulation (Dancing Girl Press, 2014)

Dorothy Lehane’s Places of Articulation (Dancing Girl Press, 2014)

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
in cortex
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

Frances and Martine by Hilda Sheehan (dancing girl press, 2014)

Frances and Martine by Hilda Sheehan (dancing girl press, 2014)

Hilda Sheehan’s follow-up to her first collection, The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood (Cultured Llama, 2013) develops the domestic imagery of earlier work into a sequence of short prose poems based on the relationship between two female characters who share their home together. Part of the dancing girl press limited edition chapbook series, Frances and Martine, resplendent with drawings by Jill Carter, more than adequately fills the series remit of being work that is fresh, innovative and exciting.

Frances and Martine effortlessly combines magical realism with absurdist humour in sharply defined prose poem vignettes. Written retrospectively, in a matter of fact manner, the narrative employs short precise sentences without recourse to excessive baggage. The poems are cut to the grin.

The Arm

Martine had an arm off. Frances was worried. How would
Martine ever get repaired? She was never a looker, as it
was, and relied on her second arm to make up for her lack
of beauty. How will you ever get repaired Martine?
Or get a man, or another job without it? I have two legs
and I can cook. You can’t cook, not without your
second arm, because you will never control onions or slice
carrots. You are much less with one arm. I will get
something that one-armed women can do and I never planned
to marry. You are now enormously difficult, Martine, not
owning up to the disability one armed ugly women face.

The sequence works through to its exact use of domestic detail and what is not said. By withholding information the reader excitedly reads on for the next instalment of the odd couple. It is a form of the magical prose poetry, as recently developed by poets such as, Luke Kennard, Linda Black and Ian Seed. After ‘The Arm’, first published in Shearsman, comes ‘The Goose’, first published in Tears in the Fence 58:

Frances bought a goose. When she got it home she discovered
it was far too small for her. I can’t take it back, this
was the biggest goose in the shop, she told Martine. What
would that say about my weight gain? Just wear the beak,
suggested Martine. I don’t wear beak, not without the whole
goose body. Then eat the thing. I can’t eat goose! That
would be like eating my dog. Does the dog still fit you?
That’s not the point. It wouldn’t be right. Are you sure
they haven’t sold you a chicken? It looks a bit small to be
a goose. Or is it a size 10 duck?

The use of unadorned domestic detail deceptively ground the prose poems in a well known setting to produce a sense of identification which, with its deadpan ordinariness, produces the laughter. The prose poems are joyously funny whilst simultaneously discussing disability, animal rights, racism, size, the menopause, love, female relationships and other issues. It is comic writing with bite and the collection repays rereading.

David Caddy 5th November 2014

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