The dialogic process of Jennifer Dick’s poems occurs in a multilingual context in which English, French and Italian interweave. The demolition of meaning and of naming provides space for a provisional reconstruction of language that evolves in sounds, alliteration and chains of words. They evoke each other in a multifaceted, polyphonic rhythm that envisages infinite possibilities. A Saussurian signifier and signified are proposed in a different perspective in which Derrida’s concept of the loss of the centre seems to be more relevant. Traditional forms are reviewed and opposed, giving way to multiple voices and different perceptions. These diverse interpretations are ‘off-the-centre’, as Derrida claims, as there is no centre, or any transcendental or universal entity to which we can refer or appeal. This concept of displacement opens the individual up to the construction of alternative views.
Dick’s poetry is a poetical journey that delves into philosophical and linguistic topics without an apparent logic and with no definite ending or goals. It is a wandering around, sometimes in circles and at other times in a winding path that emphasises the process rather than the conclusion. Fragments and echoes of everyday life and today’s society, such as political issues, shootings, women’s rights, scientific knowledge and the environment, are embedded in her discourse. In this way she explores language and therefore identity in a complex and comprehensive view of being human. Though we are strangers to ourselves, we take ‘another self […] into ourselves’ in an exchange that is promiscuous and generates intertextual connections.
References to Sappho, Erin Mouré’s A Frame of the Book and the myth of Dibutades, the inventor of the art of modelling clay in Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis, trace constant intertextual routes throughout the collection and give direction to the narratives. It is a conversation that marks displacement and loss but also a constant attempt at replacement:
her herding herself forward and again to go
forth into this bright afternoon unaccompanied
by the whorls of the whims of another’s loss
the reassertion of self
a presence of griefs (‘The Body As Message’)
Quotations from Mouré are signalled in grey notes as titles interweaved into the poems. They flag up the inconsistency of our reasoning when we try to make sense of ourselves through language. Words can deceive, and the only strategy for finding a way through the labyrinth is to create alternative connections:
collect stones, shells, ants, the carcasses
of bees, derelict homing predilections
combing the convex codex for a hived
intermezzo / in stance / stead
stand and re-geolocate
the space (distance) place (‘Figurative Blight /’)
The myth of Butades’ daughter (Dibutades in French) is thoroughly explored in the central section, ‘Afterlife’. It is the legend of the origin of drawing and painting in which the protagonist outlines her lover’s shadow, which is cast on a wall. He will leave soon, so she wishes to keep the memory of him in the drawing. However, ‘Butades’ daughter possesses no independent name./She is not in the story./She is not.’ She is therefore erased from history, ‘an illusion,/a recollection of,/ a line traced onto the wall.’ Sections in French alternate with those in English in a partial translation that is also a reworking of the story.
The ‘process/of redefinition’ culminates in the final poems in an ‘assay’, that is, an attempt to create through memory. The poems are ‘inkling of emerging vocabularies, linguistic minefields of the forgotten, written over, re-emergent’ (‘Assay’). Space and ‘body/time/language’ are in constant movement and transformation, projecting the outline of their shadows onto our uncertain existence. The collection examines the complexity of these fundamental concepts with precision and depth.
Carla Scarano D’Antonio 26th July 2022