Gareth Morgan Reviews Gabrielle Everall’s Dona Juanita and the Love of Boys

By | 1 June 2021

Everall is less of a shooter than a devourer, a very baroque word and maybe that’s fitting. I keep reading ‘Dona’ like donut. ‘She did not desire the whole of him’, but ‘he’ is a hole that Everall’s poetry sends all desire into, and she wanted to eat the good bits. Desire, Everall proposes, is like that. No, I’m getting carried away: ‘Desire is different for everyone’, Everall reminds us in the opening Reflection, and which takes us back to the idea of anti-universalism that comes from postmodernism. Rebecca Giggs comments that Everall’s desire is like an ouroboros, which is the same shape as a donut, a thing containing a hole, and this is a holey text. It’s important that it’s her ouroboros, despite the epic scale of some of the author’s references, despite the postmodern play with authorship (are the Reflection, the Notes, even Kinsella’s Introduction a kind of joke not to be taken so seriously?). Everall’s speaker appears a romantic hero, as in the thing which certain avant garde poetry tried or tries very hard to do away with. Everall is ambivalent about the intellectual problem of romantic heroics, aka Indi Rock God-ness, but rather than turning her back on this arena to produce cloistered poetry of the self, or doing a fully ironised parody, her performance swallows the man, whom she partly becomes.

The breaks out of prose into short lineated poetry are moments of quiet strength and solitude, privacy, as in:

Stud rock star (lust)re
oh star
I want to
sing a song 
to you

which has less of a look-you-in-the-eye intensity than the prose sections. The more theory-laden poems don’t hit as hard, as in ‘The Justification of the Miraculous’, a poem about the role of language in seduction, which packs in information and flaunts theoretical language. As for the novella aspect of Dona Juanita, it is a nice hook to hold the poems together and demonstrate a progression through Barthes’ ‘stages of love’, but to a reader like myself, who is not so invested in Everall’s theoretical girdering (Barthes, Kristeva and others are referenced widely in this book and pop up in semi-scholarly ‘Notes on the Poems’) it feels like a poetry book, one that spans a fair amount of time and digs into experience.

Individual poems like ‘I Disobeyed The State’ shift from a hot mode to do narrative work; this poem in particular is awesome. In it, Everall tells a story of violence that starts at home, survives the cruel Australian healthcare system and emerges eventually out the other side. It is a calmly told horror story, fully aware of the techniques and complications of ‘telling your story’. Indeed, much of Dona Juanita is marked by the problems of ‘speaking up’ in Australia, whether it be to ‘the(rape)ists’, ‘Perth people … the nicest people in the world’ (not), ‘Australian pub culture’ that she ‘hates’, or the staff at Graylands, a mental health facility that is a setting in ‘I Disobeyed The State’. Poetry, especially in performance (which, if I haven’t stressed it enough, Everall is known for), is a site for thinking through the business of confession. Is poetry, or the poetry reading, a safe space? Possibly! In a country like Australia, both poetry and trauma often fall on deaf, no marginalised ears. Is this what ‘importance’ means, something that doesn’t get a look in – but should – among the so-called general public? What are we to do with important Australian literature, put it on a high school text list?

Another question, the reverse of this line of inquiry, might be: is Everall’s poetry safe for reading? This harrowing story of surviving childhood trauma and then Graylands and continuing to disobey, or even the lesbian sex stuff, might be a different kind of ‘too much’ for some. Another question altogether might be: is literature ever, in the age of choose-your-own entertainment, as dangerous as we like to believe it to be? All I know is that the possibilities of live performance to leave a mark are important to consider in relation to Dona Juanita and the Love of Boys. This book is about the power of presence: ‘The distortion of eroticism and power that rock and roll affords …’

The last section, ‘Ascent’, bids a number of farewells to the crush, offering a funny take on ‘female empowerment’, a cultural narrative Everall seems suspicious of, or wants to complicate, living always in the push and pull of desire and power’s fuzzy operation therein:

I adore reality.

I am a diva and you are a boy
you've spoken to me and you’ve cured me – 
well thank you very much.

Saved! Empowered! Or … not. ‘Exits’, the final, long poem, considers a number of options for transcending traumatic experience and love experience, or just getting out of the book. Mostly this occurs via ‘option (a): Re(nun)ciation’, circling the circle of getting and not getting.

One of the best things about ‘Exits’ – and the book overall – is that it contains ‘bad poetry’. Specifically, I am thinking of the repetition of ‘single white female’ followed by a series of responses such as ‘watch out nine to five working girl’, where an awkward musicality and a cheap shot at ‘regular folk’ demonstrate a moment of desperation for the poet to get it down. Or it’s a little bit like memories of (‘a bit much’). I love how Everall leaves it, part of the mess of the poet desiring poetry itself. This occurs amongst a totally mad flow of writing, breaking rules, yes (a cliche that could blurb just about any book these days), but she’s more lackadaisical, just doing her thing. Which is to say it doesn’t feel like a contrived, girlboss-style refusal to play by the patriarchy’s rules. Everall is funnier and cooler than that, or too post-’second wave’, too ‘jouissant’, too something.

Always alive to the possibility of pleasure, even ‘after’ its relation to suffering and abjection, Gabrielle Everall ‘simply’ triumphs:

no longer on my knees
yet pleasure rains
down on me

Works Cited
Rebecca Giggs, Performance Poets, Mitchell et al. (eds), Fremantle Press, Fremantle, p10. Quoted in Gabrielle Everall, ‘Reflections from the Author’, Dona Juanita and the Love of Boys, Buon-Cattivi Press, Adelaide, 2020, p10–12.

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