Friday, December 13, 2013

DJ Dolack, Whittling a New Face in the Dark

If you’d like to play prison, I’ll go out for milk.

You set the table for the sum
of who you think

we should have been by now.

Remember the cattle in the freezer
the onions

and news.

Out in the yard,
the deeply-carved initials let us know

we’re not the first version,
so why whittle?

I have given up the service.


In Brooklyn, New York poet DJ Dolack’s first trade poetry collection, Whittling a New Face in the Dark (Black Ocean, 2013) (a book he launched recently in Ottawa), he shows himself to be a poet of careful attention. Dolack explores the lyric sentence and the density of the free-floating line, stitching a collage of sharp poems together from raggedy threads, phrases and fragments. His are sequences of pinpoints, and his strength comes from his accuracy. “Night is coming in,” he writes in the poem “WHAT THEY WANT ME TO TELL YOU,” “or you are moving towards it.” Situated in Dolack’s New York City, Whittling a New Face in the Dark composing a dark and complex series of postcards, conditions, contradictions and experiences that he never entirely falls prey to, his book is a love letter to a complex geography, managing a personal and uplifting map. “Dawn is a color / I am condemned to describe:,” he writes, to open the poem “NYC POSTCARDS,” writing of “father holding me / up close to the casket[.]” The postcards he writes to his adopted city are multiple, and not just in the overt series of poems throughout the collection titled “NYC POSTCARDS,” but a thread that runs through the entire collection, grounding his admiration and love for a city he seems to know far too well, warts and all.


When the letter is sent, he walks the length of the pacing room and waits for word. The night folds backward into the dimming house where the body accrues its memory. There is laughing. The whole exaggerated wish of it going on and on. Some wiring beneath his skin dimly warm. Birds flutter in from the chimney. He finds their feathers have been gnarled by pirate birds who’ve intercepted and pillaged the words. All of their breath coming at his face in heaves, exalts. He doesn’t know what she’s received.

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