Danielle Rose’s first chapbook, for that’s what it is, is a phenomenally impressive piece of first work, with none of the perhaps to-be-expected over-concision of such an item. It is enough, gently enough, but not too much or more than enough. It is, however, more than enough to establish a place for her among those who know and love poetry. Nor is it a bit of preciousness, a fault that short poetry books can fall heir to, especially when they take up such complicated subjects as being trans-, and furthermore attempt to capture the experience as it passes or has passed. For here, Rose has adopted a delicate but comprehensive poetic shorthand whose condensation is a sheer delight.
The poetry in this book is first of all modeled in formal cadences like the tones of Sapphic fragments, or all that we have remaining of Sappho, short clauses and phrases barely welded together, but at the same time sensate and sensible in their pulsing resonances. Throughout, the experience of transitioning sexually is rediscovered and reemerges, moving from earlier stages of awareness (“at first”) through and always through imagistically rich moments to the second stage (“& then”). It doesn’t stop there, however, but keeps on going, surrounding itself with the experience of difference as if to transition once is to acquire forever the habit and ability of change, of meta-phoring.
The book begins with the image of a suicide, sparcely but feelingly imagined as it must have been, in a mirrored world of isolation and aloneness, as if to question whether the buried woman inside must be likewise sacrificed. In the first part of this book, interior and exterior distances are examined. In some ways, the sense of isolation with the experience is so complete that there is no sense of human exchange in the poems, until “my mother’s tears” are mentioned in the final poem of the first half, which is cast in the form of a recipe for “gender swap potion.” But the sexuality has not been without incitement: there is a poem a few pages before this, a poem which bestows a certain fascinated gaze on the male-female experience: it is entitled “on walking outside with my morning coffee at 9:00 am to find my new neighbors fucking like cottontails in their backyard.” It is a vivid and frolicsome poem of a frank voyeurism, one which is not prohibited and not even particularly noticed by the performers being watched.
Much of the poem abounds instead in natural images and creatures, but contact with them is also fragmented and tangential, which is not a fault, but an attempt to locate the experience of difference in a topos of natural life. This is the picture of a mind informing itself from literature, science of various kinds such as ornithology, with the cadences of poetry, and then desperately sometimes only accepting these as enough, other times couching the experiences in near-refusal, or at least despondency. The word “empty” or the concept of an emptying-out-of occurs repeatedly, but not always in the same sense: at first it is in an emotional sense of desolation. Then, it becomes something taking place more in a comforted sense of achievement at being thought, for example “pretty in soft light,” “pretty like a swarm of bees passed out drunk in a yellow flowerbed/pollen floating/all in soft light so pretty”
The reward for the writer, here, is not held back from the reader; this is not a selfish poesy: in the final four words of the last poem, entitled “an inventory of things that have changed,” is the repeated word “joy.” For in the end, from its opening lines to its closing anthem, this is a book about possibilities.
(Shadowoperator: Victoria Leigh Bennett)