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This article is taken from PN Review 263, Volume 48 Number 3, January - February 2022.

Sitting with Discomfort
Part 1: What Kind of Room is a Stanza?
Vahni Capildeo

The kind of things that might be kept behind glass glisten, not even out on display, simply and perilously out for everyday use, despite and because of their breakability, in certain kinds of room. I mean such things as hand-embroidered cloths, high-quality china, and embellished glass, not weapons (or not so much). For some reason, those rooms are dimly lit. Like snowscapes, the faces of people catch whatever dusty light they can, never mind whether the people are dark-skinned or paler. Their human expressions appear partial and heightened, often with a doll-like anguish.

Poets like Natalie Linh Bolderston, Amy Key, and Sharon Olds are inheritors of such atmospheres. They do not need to tell stories to deal with interiority in ways that novelists traditionally have done, even though they often choose to recount situations or imply a narrative. The online journal Peony Moon, covering Amy Key’s Luxe (Salt, 2013), reproduces poems such as ‘To a Clothes Rail’, which concludes:
Formal wear gown for selling on eBay
Dress bought for funeral, frequently worn to detach from death
Dress last worn when someone cried for you
Fretful dress, to be cut up for rags
Palladium dress for looking into mirrors in
A cake of a dress – whipped to frou-frou
Scented dress of mustard seed, orange peel and almond milk
Glitter-bellied hummingbird dress
Ex-favourite dress, now not quite right
Perfectly acceptable dress, given the circumstances

The dressed body is a thing of circumstance, nightmare ...


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