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Don’t be deceived by the smooth, delicate exterior of Proxy (Belladonna), and don’t expect to breeze through its interior, either. R. Erica Doyle’s recently released book of prose poems is not for the passive reader. Where poetic and narrative predictability might be expected, Doyle generates stimulating, sometimes frustrating, patterns of obfuscation. Proxy offers readers a bittersweet, wrecking, challenging opportunity to wonder, question, formulate, and exert in the act of reading. Doyle challenges readers to trust her as a creative, almost magical, mathematician and to understand mathematics in new patterns and charismatic conjectures. The work of the poet-mathematician, a role Doyle invents, takes form in the narrative space occupied by Doyle’s hands, where “the world contracts” and “becomes more lucid.” Proxy’s prose, a living mathematic language art, will engage and move both your mind and body, pushing the boundaries of narrative poetry and, if you let it, you out of your reading and interpretive comfort zones.
You will mess with and, more to the point, be messed with by Proxy, by its state of chaos, despair and sensual longing. Proxy is for the unschooled scholar: the wild, inquisitive mind of a reader who is willing and determined— not the fixed state of the mind of a reader who knows. Speaking of the power of the scholar, Doyle works as an administration in the NYC public schools and facilitates Tongues Afire: A Free Creative Writing Workshop for queer women and trans and gender non-conforming people of color. Proxy, published by the experimental reading and publication series, Belladonna, left me wanting footnotes and creating my own. My in-text citations and four pages of notes prepared me for a critical essay more than it did a review, yet this just speaks to the depth and versatility of the work— the qualities that make it an excellent academic text.
If you’re an academic looking for a provocative art text that interweaves issues and themes of urbanity, linguistics, queerness, and geographies of desire, consider this for your syllabus. If you’re an unschooled reader with a flare for artistic experimentation, go to it for the form and take it from there. Though I was aware of other reading possibilities, as a feminist scholar and poet, I read Proxy as a post-colonial narrative that can be understood through critical post-modern and post-structuralist theory.At the same time, readers are offered a commentary on the similarities between linguistic form and bodily form. She writes:
Women are so polite. So crisscrossed with borders.
Sometimes it’s like stealing. Taking something you don’t really
want just to. Get away with it.
Doyle’s crude rawness may stun the reader, but the “quest” of the text, and its “crisscrossed” meanings, will push the reader onward. The metaphysical, erotic stream-of-consciousness that propels Doyle’s narrative transcends, and at times relieves, the aftershocks of some of the colonialistthemes and their linguistic blows. While the rush of unrequited love for a psychologically captive ex-lover disperses itself and is prominent throughout the prose-poems, Proxy seems also to call for the return of something elusive that has been stolen away, something insipid and vast that has permanently fractured humanity’s relationship with its sensual body.
Doyle’s use of “the lover” is not simply in the literal sense— she does not personify sexual partners but personifies land as body and body as land:
All is calling. Will you leave this
dengue plateau? The hills of Laventille wither beneath the moon that
beats back the darkness of the plain. Shadows call her name to a
Land is connected intimately to bodies, bones, and ghosts. A place, inhabited in a body and psychology, and in their symbols, waits to hear its own voice and to experience a homecoming. Laventille deserves a footnote to alert readers to its history of French colonization. The poor conditions and squatter settlements in Laventille bring to this passage broader, more political, implications. Earlier in the text, Doyle’s use of “one” to describe a psychologically distant but physically close lover whose “youth gives beneath your knee” conveys simultaneously a rebellion against, submission to, andadoption of the deep history of fucking (white-male colonialist love: mapping-and-conquering, land-pillaging, community-conversion, gunpoint-assimilation, mother/land-raping). The act of physical loving is a space where the thirst of desire goes unquenched and an externalized, misplaced colonialist act of violence, in the not-quite-apolitical realm of the bedroom, is committed.
Doyle is present in the work; it is especially clear when the poetic-consciousness emerges through the narration:
If thunder were a vowel, this is
the lip it would occupy.
Ironically, it is in that disembodied, de-personalized space of the sex act in which “you are born.” Re-birth is the theme of “palimpsest,” a section of Doyle’s text devoted to the frenzied, directionless drive toward self-actualization. Effacement can be seen as a post-colonial metaphor, a response to the pervasive force behind the void, hunger and need to be filled that spreads across locations, generations, speakers, and spaces. Doyle’s references to the womb and to geographical and physical landscapes, in particular, suspend and blur the lines between self, family, heritage, history and geography. Proxy, finally, challenges the way in which we think about the relationship between authority and identity. How can identity be preserved and recreate itself in the face of an imperial authority that does the same?
Identity, at the end of Doyle’s book, remains a prisoner to authority, caught but suspended at the edge of an aftermath (ematical) web, wondering where and why the body/mother/land has gone, still reaching and mazing through the inner world that desperately seeks to find itself free of authority. Doyle articulates the difficult navigations of identity through the post-conquering acts and landscaping literacies that fill the space, or cover, aneliminatedhistory— in a page, a line, a word, a letter. Proxy is as much a work of intellectual ambition and political strategy, expanding and exploring woundedness, as it is aesthetically erotic. If you want to feel deeply, to be pulled into Doyle’s prose, prepare to do so, not with abandon but, with fire in your chest and eyes to the slate sky.
Proxy’s themes may not be new, but they are written anew and exerted with the sensual force seen most powerfully in a community of comrades: the queer and feminist movements and their warrior writers. Doyle carries the torch of her predecessors, blazing the trail from her pen.
By R. Erica Doyle
Paperback, 9780982338797, 88 pp.
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