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Joanne Dominique Dwyer’s, “Belle Laide” Reviewed by Stacey Balkun

February 27, 2014 in Poets At Work

joanne dominique dwyer belle laide
Joanne-Dominique-Dwyer Joanne Dominique Dwyer’s first collection of poems, Belle Laide (Sarabande Books, 2013) occupies a limbo space. Our speaker describes herself as poised between two generations—an outsider on the edge of several worlds, each ready for careful examination.

The central conflict is the world of the beautiful vs that of the ugly, and she gives us a trenchant tour through both. , interweaving themes of legend and science, the known and unknown.

As a fan of Kimiko Hahn’s Toxic Flora, I felt especially drawn to the science:

“Luciferin and luciferase. A pigment and an enzyme./They depend on each other. Neither one can produce a luminous body alone.//Even the arrival of the average child requires both the sperm and the egg…”

Somehow, in a space no bigger than a mason jar, the poem captures it all. It is the jar that captures a fistful of fireflies. We, as readers, become the insects glowing within, able to see out but still feeling strangely trapped, as we feel in our human bodies.

This corporeal quality is exemplified in the poem “She Had Some Water,” which channels Joy Harjo’s “She Had Some Horses” by using repetition to create a sense of multiplicity:

“She had some sun ascertaining ownership on her shoulders

She had some rain in her hair…”

The final poem brings us back to our speaker, and, like so much of this stunning collection, moves inward towards the body, positioning it as the only source of certainty, even as it is a “temporary occupancy,” the value of which (beautiful or ugly) exists solely in the mind:

“And she’ll be ashamed for her ego-driven desire

to be listed among the holy,

and humbled into a hallow love for her body…“

 

Reviewed by Stacey Balkun

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Natalie Diaz, “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” Reviewed by Jeannine Hall Gailey

January 29, 2014 in Poetry Book Reviews, Poetry Reviews

natalie diaz when my brother was an aztec reviewed by jeannine hall gailey

Natalie Diaz When My Brother Was an Aztec

Natalie-Diaz-book
When My Brother Was an Aztec
By Natalie Diaz
Copper Canyon Press, 2012
Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec is an ambitious first book written with all the confidence and skillful organization of a poet writing her third or fourth book. Taking on subjects—such as addiction and childhood on a reservation—that could, in less capable hands, teeter on the brink of melodrama, Diaz simultaneously provokes and reins in, creating poems that brim with power. In short, her book is intelligently playful while remaining entirely unafraid of the darkness.When My Brother Was an Aztec treats Diaz’s relationship with her brother—a drug addict and, eventually, a veteran—who acts as a reminder of what she could become. The title poem, “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” portrays her brother as an Aztec king, a hummingbird warrior, a devouring god: “My parents/ begged him to pluck their eyes out. He thought he was/ Huizilopochtli, a god, half-man half-hummingbird….” Diaz paints a vivid portrait of a world between cultures, presenting fragments of mythologies from multiple origins. With Mojave and Spanish phrases peppering her poems, she never allows the reader to rest satisfied with stereotypes. In the prose poem “The Last Mojave Indian Barbie,” which recalls Denise Duhamel’s Barbie poems in Kinky, Diaz pokes fun while revealing uncomfortable truths:

Wired to her display box were a pair of one-size-fits-all-Indian stiletto
moccasins, faux turquoise earrings, a dream catcher, a copy of Indian
Country Living, erasable markers for chin and forehead tattoos, and two
six-packs of mini magic beer bottles—when tilted up, the bottles turned
clear, when turned right-side up, the bottles refilled. Mojave Barbie
repeatedly drank Ken and Skipper under their pink plastic patio table sets.
Skipper said she drank like a boy.

These truths are eased by Diaz’s striking voice and vivid descriptions and make for a book that offers a magical transformation you won’t be able to resist.


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