Review: TO TRACY LIKE/TO LIKE/LIKE by Tracy Dimond (reviewed by P.J. Dominiski)

Tracy DimondTO TRACY LIKE/TO LIKE/LIKE

By Tracy Dimond

10 pages

Akinoga Press, 2018

Tracy Dimond’s long poem TO TRACY/TO LIKE/LIKE doesn’t just hit the ground running – the poem splashes into existence through puddles of cynicism, signaling the depths of the social commentary to come. The poem’s conceptual foundation – a series of self-directed emails that flesh out an internal dialogue between the narrator and herself – allows Dimond remain consistent in her examination of the external power structures that repress and degrade her. This framework prevents Dimond from indulging in excessive digression, and the product is a piece that dodges distillation at every turn (and there are several.) Dimond’s engagement with oppressive patriarchal social forces bears an unmistakable if somewhat mild anti-capitalist bent, but this is always lensed through an essentially individualist worldview that is intimately personal and principally concerned with the self. The reduction of self under an institutionally misogynistic society is a main thematic underpinning of the poem, however the centrality of the narrator’s body to the piece, as well as a gyroscopic tone of egoistic introspection, tend to moderate many of the poem’s more radical ambitions.

It must also be said that the piece’s focus on what its description codifies as a “female-bodied” existence, can in many instances be alternatively and indeed more damningly identified as a focus on cisnormative experience. Take for example the following line from a stanza which muses on a heteronormative AskMen YouTube video about sex: “How many sexual positions detail punching a woman in the face?/Where is the concern for the clitoris?” Both the threat and actuality of misogynistic violence are struggles shared by women of all stripes – not just those who have a clitoris. The placement of these two lines in succession commits a reduction of its own, not unlike the kind of reduction of womanhood the poem itself is attempting to criticize. An earlier line from the poem’s second stanza further contextualizes the somewhat rigid conception of womanhood presented in the aforementioned example. In an email addressed “To ME” the narrator directs herself (and the reader by extension) to “Question why periods are gross/to anyone that doesn’t spend the day vomiting.” It is clear that this piece not written for all women, but primarily for those who ovulate and have female genitalia. This is somewhat understandable as the piece is derived from personal experience, but the cisnormative tendencies in the poem seem at times to diminish and limit the applicability of the important and otherwise salient commentary Dimond is making about existing as a woman in a patriarchal society.

At its strongest moments, this poem is poignantly subversive. Dimond has a knack for satisfying takedowns, especially of men and the myriad ways in which their behavior reinforces existing power structures and shuts women out of important dialogues. In one stanza, the narrator begins: “Step into the philosophy games of men-/When you hug someone, are they dust?/When you step on a cockroach, is it math?” Dimond directs a nuanced attack on the discourse of men – which she sees as predominantly pedantic. One can’t help but to here envision right-wing icon Ben Shapiro or some such fascist of his ilk making a nasally appeal to let facts and logic alone guide our hand in addressing the contradictions of society. Reducing a gesture as profoundly human as shared hug to the literal sum of its parts is made by Dimond to look just as absurd as it is. This is important work – especially given how convenient this reasoning is to the “facts don’t care about your feelings” wing of the reactionary population. The poem tends to smirk with a defiant pride that should make the adversaries of its project very nervous. Later in the poem, Dimond writes “Linda asked what will you write about when you’re old?/I said whatever, they better listen.” The narrator’s answer flips the script on patriarchal capitalism. It seizes the authoritarian rhetoric of the enemy and repurposes it in service of uplifting a woman. The narrator does not idly hope that “they” will listen – she demands that they must and posits without needing to fully explicate, that they would find it most regrettable to not listen. This is an inspirational and self-determinant statement in that the narrator isn’t interested in negotiating her presence in the world – she is asserting it with an irrepressible will.  Though the notion that individual will or merit can allow one to transcend the constrictions of their material conditions is tenuous, it finds within the context of a poem a unique opportunity to be considerably useful. Within the larger poem this is a galvanizing and self-actualizing moment makes the reader feel the raw and energetic resilience women must practice in order to not be completely demoralized by the sexist powers that be.

TO TRACY/ TO LIKE/ LIKE strikes a balance between idiosyncrasy and relatability and must be commended for the success and functionality of its experimental form. Where the poem struggles is in bridging the gulf between the individual experience of the narrator and the oppressive social, political, and capital forces against which all women must stand in united defiance and incorruptible solidarity with one another. The poem isn’t content to operate purely from personal experience, which is commendable. It pursues a larger social commentary that compiles personal experiences and poetic polemic in an attempt to speak to a common experience among women. The poem does this best where its testimonial is minimally exclusionary, such as when Dimond writes “My interest in vulnerability is still low./Stay hungry? No./There is power in being fed.” At certain times, this piece’s tendency to operate in the realm of the mundane is exactly what makes it accessible. Still, these same quirks often clutter and convolute Dimond’s poeticism into feeling more like a free write, such as with the lines :”Time to start making salad with potatoes.” and “Find neutral stance: Down dog doesn’t hurt.” In this sense, this work seems to function more effectively on a series of poetical vignettes more than a coherent long poem. This is also a work that in places struggles in addressing material circumstances and experiences outside of itself. It has no obligation to do so of course, but is perhaps too prideful in its confinement to one will, one body, and one consciousness.  In any case, TO TRACY LIKE/TO LIKE/LIKE is a peculiar and personal meditation that sets its sights on the external colossus of a patriarchy in a way that is both politically charged and fun to read.–P.J. Dominiski

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