Dave Drayton Reviews Zoe Dzunko and Sam Wagan Watson

By | 15 December 2016

Zoe Dzunko’s beautifully designed Selfless, published by TAR Chapbook Series, is similarly immersed in appearances and reflections – both mirror images and the act of rumination – of her many selves. In ‘Line Camera’ Dzunko deconstructs a gesture of bending over, as her own ‘history of hiding / a face to eye the desolate, to receive / the mirror body and it knows only / to shout in pictures’. She is even more direct in ‘Rubric’, shamelessly describing the pleasure of a pleasant reflection: ‘I don’t mean to sound vain / but nothing pulses me // more than an easy slipping zipper, / specular surfaces shining,’ and later that lack of shame: ‘We will speak / without shame and he will witness // rotted-out fruit. An overworked curl, / a mirror with a compact to its face.’ A similarly combative mix of approval and apprehension is apparent in ‘Price (High to Low)’:

In black windows I witness myself:

the biggest stereotype of myself, always doing my hair up
this way, the outfit chosen by some benevolent version of me,

less day-hardened.

Where Wagan Watson’s dealings with reflections result in the documentation of a proliferation of numerous (at times contradictory) selves, Dzunko, when confronted with doppelgangers, seems more concerned with disappearance.

One explanation offered for the phenomenon of Bloody Mary is illusions attributed to the perceptual effects of Troxler’s Fading, in which unchanging stimulus peripheral to a fixation point in a field of vision will appear to fade and disappear. For both Wagan Watson and Dzunko, that point of fixation is the self. During ‘Indolic’ Dzunko documents the effects such hypnosis:

If we waited long enough 
we could witness the body

making new parts, growing
new flesh shapes, hungry

like a goldfish to occupy
negative space.

What seems at first to be growth by the second couplet starts becoming it antithesis, flesh that only grows in its absence. ‘Turbo Plasticity’ documents a more physical attempt by Dzunko to ‘transcend [her] physiology’:

get to finding ways of making
the body smaller, crossing a leg
over the other

In ‘Dry Flowers’ the speaker attempts to remove herself from the mirror and ask: ‘So, how do you write about breaking / earth or do you / even try to make art real? Try / rear-vision mirrors / no faces inside.’ And yet the visions/versions of this self persist: ‘Like how I see myself in everyone / my initials in every scarred mountainside / my body in every man’s embrace / mirroring is a life’s work / living on nothing but fresh air.’

The reflection and self-examination fuelling both chapbooks is powerful not only for the revelations it facilitates, but also because the act itself, when performed by an Indigenous man or a woman, represents the authors’ having taken possession of the gaze from the numerous oppressive others that are named variously throughout both collections. Dzunko describes such threats obliquely in ‘Sand Under Nails’: As children we would be versed / in the patterns of water currents; / that places of safety do not appear / as such, are swarming curls that menace. / Even now, it is difficult to understand / how something markedly absent / threatens to apprehend you.

In such circumstances, amidst threats that arise from absences, to really look at yourself and to privilege what you see – however complicated or contradictory – over other views is an act in which defiance unequivocally outweighs indulgence. These are dogged self-examinations, resolutely personal, and a privilege to read.

This entry was posted in BOOK REVIEWS and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Related work: