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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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