by Stephanie Dickinson
Spuyten Duyvil, 2011
70 pp.; $10
Picking up Stephanie Dickinson’s Lust Series I could hear a faint rumble of insecurity from somewhere inside of me. The format of this collection of short prose pieces (most are less than a page) reminded me of the time I spent wading—no floundering—my way through Nicole Brossard’s largely inaccessible Picture Theory during my final year of an English Honours degree.
I soon found that I had no reason to fear Dickinson. Her prose, though it emphasizes language over narrative, is not only accessible; it is an explosion of life staining page after page with the ecstatic gore of everyday passions, obsessions and indiscretions. Dickinson’s themes cover the gamut of sex, nature, violence, death, love, poverty, and incest, but in spite of the grit of these themes, her work isn’t the usual urban, nihilistic writing of existential despair. Instead her words are animated, full of life, as though taking their cue from the carnal deeds described within the slim seventy pages of this work.
The episodes that take place on each page provide vivid immersions in a visceral, fully realized world where the animal-nature of being human is laid bare through interactions that are sensual, titillating and, at times, perverse.
The first page describes a scene that is eerily reminiscent of 9/11 (though without mentioning this event). Dickinson begins by writing about the city as it’s inhabited by “the homeless who threw themselves (down) on futon cushions…I kissed my lips into garbage cans…whiff of reefer, marrow of decomposing Pampers…” And in that sordid environment, she adds, “Blocks away bodies were burning away to soul and in the air voices cried out Tell us how to stay alive…A gaping hole people were falling from.” This juxtaposition of squalor, death and yearning for life is typical of Dickinson’s strange ability to knit together seamlessly worlds that contain the whole spectrum of both beauty and extreme ugliness in a writing style that is richly evocative, utterly empathic and terribly perspicacious.
In another section, Dickinson describes, with great compassion, an incestuous relationship between brother and sister. While exploring this transgressive relationship, Dickinson also makes it compelling and loving: “We fall asleep wrapped around each other and maybe we’ll wake with the sheet iced to our skin or better yet to not wake and our last touch frozen solid my fingers to his lips.” Through her rich understanding of the dark secrets of the human heart Dickinson conveys, with authenticity, all of the perversion, the torrid passion as well as the tragic gentleness of this relationship.
Even without an obvious linking narrative, each piece in this work is thematically connected with language that Dickinson bleeds out, spits out onto the page in a way that is at times percussive, always emotionally salient and perceptive in a way that resists pedantry, and retains its emphasis on language over plot without becoming ethereal or overly academic. Dickinson’s writing is primal, powerful, and original. »From issue #60