The Vast Unwritten Clauses of Darcie Dennigan's Madame X

By Harriet Staff

Wow yes neat-o: Darcie Dennigan's Canarium book, Madame X, is not only at the tip-top of the small-press bestseller list, it's just received a close read over at The Rumpus, too. Reviewer Virginia Konchan thinks about the book in terms of the ellipses, since it is, as she writes, "a collection of poems predominantly structured in long prose paragraphs whose incomplete clausal phrases are connected by ellipses"; and invokes every workshop leader's favorite Elizabeth Bishop poem, "At the Fishhouses." More:

The initial effect was jarring—spit it out, poet!—but that perception soon shifted to formal considerations of how the ellipsis was functioning (rejection of closure in an internal monologue gone haywire?). By the time I reached the poem “The Ninth Annual Meeting of the Fraternal Disorder of Historic Linguistics, or, The Error of my Maze,” my benefit of the doubt reading was confirmed: the lexical burst that characterize this book lead the reader to a climatic ending that dramatizes one of the text’s most dazzling hooks: interpretative validity, both the dream and impossibility thereof. “I keep hoping you will interrupt me,” the speaker (eulogizing a wallflower) declares in the collection’s final poem. Perhaps this is also part of the strategy—desire for the reader’s involvement—being deployed? Either way, the thrills of Madame X are had at the cost of the speaker’s limited patience with the poem-as-spectacle: “Friends, I cannot entertain you eternally.”

Also interesting:

...[D]oes the speaker see her elliptical narratives (interrupted not by an other but by competing thoughts or passing observations) as being that “vast unwritten clause” or does that vast unwritten clause represent an extra-textual (as-yet-unheard) speech act or song? If the former, we learn of the beginning of this love-affair with language, as broken into “complete” syntactic units (independent clauses, or sentences) and pieces torn therefrom with the line “My first utterance was a sentence …”

The gravitas of Madame X is tempered by a slipstream of ideas, memories, literary ghosts (Cervantes, Celine), as well as the persistent figure of a baby who returns the poems again and again not to a domestic realm, but a Stevensian “reality,” (à la “Tea at the Palaz of Hoon”): “Everything is the baby, the bedroom is the end of the world,// but when the baby is calm you cannot know its mind, and you/ must/ hold in your arms a strange thing.”

Shapeshifting between the voices (and occupations) of a predatory bird, an aesthete, a male Pietà, a suicidal baker whose secret ingredient is flowers, a mother, and a sacristy worker with a penchant for drinking baptismal water and eating communion bread—while the desires shot through this collection include the sublime as approached corporeally—“the part of me that really responds to majesty are my hips”—these poems are also footnotes to actual life. As if incapable of not being “honest” (the poet promises us this gift throughout), the poems that reference the life of the poet spur this hyper-kinetic collection on as much as they ground it.

From “The Job Interview”:

#1 I am not an idealist!
#2 I’ll work anywhere and hard . . .
#3 What I’m really good at is loving this world well.

I just don’t know who—
who I’m supposed to be or how to make enough money.

Read the review in full here.

Originally Published: June 18th, 2012