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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

D.J. Dolack’s 12 Poems reviewed by Raina Lauren Fields

D.J. Dolack, 12 Poems

D.J. Dolack
12 Poems
Eye For An Iris Press, 2010
6.5×5.5, 28pp., handbound

Reviewed by Raina Lauren Fields

I think I picked the perfect day to read D.J. Dolack’s chapbook, 12 Poems, a collection of handmade: hand-stamped, hand-stapled, hand-folded, and hand-pressed poems, the first collection from Dolack since 2005’s The Sad Meal. I read the book during a rainy afternoon in early March—the rain tapping lightly against the windows, water funneling down the drain pipes and out in the puddles in the alleyway, a slow, continued flow of weather. Perhaps a better time to read Dolack’s poetry would have been in the evening or at dawn, when I imagine most of his poems are set, under the “low shelf haze” (I THOUGHT WE DISCUSSED THIS ALREADY).

If calling Dolack’s poems romantic is an insult in current American poetry, then I apologize in advance. They are romantic and quiet, but full of energy like bursts of “sick confetti” (RIGHT NOW: / FEELS LIKE:) They are sexy. That is, if you’re into unanswered voicemails (I THOUGHT WE DISCUSSED THIS ALREADY), silken letters (NYC POSTCARDS (FROM UNION HALL)), and “years of dog-eared pages on the shelves” (WHAT THEY WANT ME TO TELL YOU). There are poems when the general caresses of love becomes specific—where things enter a sort of slow-pan, zoom, and pause:

“The way you use only one ear for the phone.

A canned scene amidst the laughter.”

There is an overwhelming sense of intimacy in the poetry. Light plays an important role in almost every poem. These poems are filled with low light and whispers, stolen speech in bedrooms and bar rooms:

                 …a low

yellow moon outside
sipping back the sky.

…the bar room light dims
and walls come over us…

“Like the curtain letting in
a thick little light,

close though not yet a halo.

In the first section of the book, light is never fully present, often clouded by something—the sky, the walls. Perhaps it is because “The light is one obscene gesture” (NYC POSTCARDS (FROM UNION HALL)), and its presence must be thwarted.

And in the same way that light is important, so is naming, or the role of names. But what is the point of naming, especially to an unnamed speaker? Is it to make what is unknown, known? To make what is unreal or imagined, real? To make what is foreign and distant, yours? Is it to foster a kind of ownership? For Dolack, discussing naming seems to create a closeness, but simultaneously helps him to understand an absence, an acute emptiness, to identify:

The light is one
obscene gesture:

people who don’t
look like their names.

The sky above all things reaches

and comes in
on a pattern of light

no less trusting than dusk
dusting our legs, saying a name

in spite of names.

and “There’s a nickname up against the pillowcase…” (HOW A YEAR IS BORN).

In the second section of the chapbook, which includes the poem, “WHAT THEY WANT ME TO TELL YOU,” those things that were hinted at—light, love, epiphany, understanding, are acted upon. These actions move from the previous whispers, are announced in litany, “I love you”—even once declaring:

You might say I love you, for Christ sake –

I love you out through the back window
down the fire escape

to the neighbor’s yard,

I love you
how the elderly love bakeries –

in the way they say cake.

For Dolack this is the equivalent of fireworks or skywriting, “I love you this much” in the afternoon sky. Now, the rooms are no longer shadowed, but filled “with so much light.” While this is true, the reader is still left in the clutches of generality. That is, left without a specific idea of the relationship or role of those within the poems. It seems as if Dolack is purposely subverting the reader’s expectations of getting to know these people or the situations that are presented within, which is why the final verses of the poem would somewhere that seems unexpected:

Something is not right when the clouds are like this
and everything is clear.

Night is coming in,

Or you are moving towards it.

Sugar granules
under your bare feet, roman candles

in the distance become.

I applaud Dolack for not ending in the easy space of optimism. There is something ominous, something real. And there’s something funny about much of this poetry, isn’t there?

I love you
how the elderly love bakeries –

in the way they say cake.

Or perhaps, it’s the way “people mark … their lives by epiphanies.” Or perhaps it’s the fact that life is “one of those things that could go on and on.” Perhaps it, too, is a thing we writers are all “condemned to describe” (NYC POSTCARDS). The way things really are.

* * *

Raina Lauren Fields is currently enrolled in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Virginia Tech. She has published poetry in Callaloo, Gargoyle, PANK, Diverse Voices Quarterly, 5x5, San Pedro River Review, Breadcrumb Scabs, and other literary journals. She has also published a poetry review in Rattle and is a current editor of Toad and previous General Editor of Creative Writing for The Minnesota Review.