I have to admit I was not prepared for how exquisite the first poem “Let Us For A Moment Call This Pain By Other Words” is in Dominik Parisien’s debut poetry collection Side Effects May Include Strangers out with McGill-Queen’s University Press. It is the kind of poem that, for a poet when you read it, it gives you an immediate sense of satisfaction, and also tendrils of envy which for me marks the quality of an excellent poem. It is the kind of poem that for a young poet with a first book says I have arrived:
Ask, How many roses does the hammer weigh when it bears down on your skull? Does the sword seem toothed like a toddler’s smile or sharp as your first ice skates? On a scale of anglerfish to northern lights how bright are the flashes in your head? When I touch this, here, which constellations light the sky behind your eyes? Would you say that pulsing is the flicker of a satellite or the stubborn heartbeat of a newborn chick? Ask, Can we for a moment make of beauty the measure of our pain? and I will answer.
Honestly, I wish I wrote that opening couplet. It shows immediately the strength of Parisien’s image-making which is on display all over this poetry collection as he likens migraines “to a failed ice pick lobotomy” and a body “to lightning in a bottle” and the wish to channel his pain to “television’s technicolour range in language”.
Parisien adds to a growing body of disability poetics in Canada and he chooses a plethora of forms and approaches to make himself heard as he writes in “To A Chronically Pained Body”, “Pain made metaphor is pain made real”.
As with most first books, some poems feel slighter than others as you get a sense of the young poet experimenting with smaller lyrics, and then attempting longer, more dexterous pieces like the excellent poem “Concussion” with its accretion of detail and image and feeling. However, many of the smaller poems are quite wonderful like his poem “Card Game With Disabled Friend” which made me read it over several times to discover how it works:
Death was at the table because of course it always is. We were in that moment no more or less aware of it than you. What else is there to say except that we were young & old & maybe pained or that we played & breathed & were.
Parisien’s poetry collection covers lots of ground from suicidal ideation to MRIs to faith healers to personal relationships as the poems weave and weft their myriad themes through four separate sections. Yet, for me, Parisien is at his best when he is building startling images that hint at both illness and pleasure like in his poem “Watch For That Horizon”:
You gave us pebbles from the seashore, driftwood pale & brown. We peeled the flesh from our fingers, broke the bones off at the knuckles, set your stones in one by one, wore driftwood gloves to hold them together. We carry the weight of salt in our hands. Our fingers ache for warm shores. We kissed your forehead goodbye. The skin like a plastic water bottle. You drifted out to sea on a raft of our bones.
The ending of “Watch For That Horizon” is dramatic and arresting, and has a freshness to the language that makes me very excited to see how Parisien will progress as a young poet exploring disability poetics in this country.
It is clear chronic pain has taken its pound of flesh from Dominik Parisien in his debut collection Side Effects May Include Strangers out with McGill-Queen’s University Press, but if the poems do not actually remedy the way pain can make us feel other, even to ourselves, they do the next best thing: they remind us in rich haunting imagery that, “We are all subjects of pain, its pen & paper, & are each read & worth reading”.
About the author: Dominik Parisien is a writer, editor, and poet and the author of the chapbook We, Old Young Ones. He lives in Toronto.
- McGill-Queen’s University Press
- 96 Pages
- ISBN 9780228003571
- October 2020
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