domina Un/blued by Ruth Ellen Kocher
Tupelo Press, 2013; 81 pp
Reviewed by Wesley Rothman
Ruth Ellen Kocher’s domina Un/blued is a revolution. Wandering these poems with a close, patient eye—much like marveling the magnificence of Greek ruins or DC’s monuments, or dreaming an ancient Roman bathhouse complete—I can’t help but be swallowed.
I also can’t help but see a raging innovation in these poems, much as I do in the work of people like Victoria Chang, Shane McCrae, Douglas Kearney, C. D. Wright, Nathaniel Mackey, Tyehimba Jess, Anne Carson, and Terrance Hayes. With impeccable deliberation, a steady and large-looming intellect, and a silence-rich reflection, Kocher crafts these poems for and of a central persona: D/domina. Kidnapped, enslaved, recipient—in the grave—of a basket, acanthus leaves unfurling from its sides, Domina/domina, human-yet-treated-inhumanly, offers Kocher this space of language and position and idea to retrace an incredibly dense history of oppression—Western history. Not to suggest that Eastern or any history is without its own forms of dominance and submission, Kocher’s book implies a necessary grappling with Western society’s contemporary language systems, our cultural (often zombie-like, unconsidered) appropriations, by reaching beyond the atrocities of “the New World” to linguistic and psychological roots of oppression. In this outrageously poignant throw-back, so to speak, we experience the terror, the daydreams, the triumphs of Domina. We come to wonder how similar and different our time and continent are in light of her Empire—the language, the vicious Cyclops, the expansive fields—in light of myth.
I’m drawn to poets, to poetry that resists excerpting. Metaphors, aphorisms, individual lines that shimmer and sear are always lifting in contemporary poetry, but these poems are full, whole, must be all of themselves. So, reluctantly, I leave you with pieces of wholes and urge you to wander these poems, to wander a worldly and distant past as well as a troublesome present, and to wander yourself:
The human change. There is no absolute
whereas the fields should not be used interchangeably with
a collection of beings.
— “D/domina: Empire”
] | | | [
There is no field. There is no clover no green. You listen
anyway. Hear a voice follow you into the afternoon Language
crosses a clearing the stark way a thing revealed
when thinned clouds expose better light.
You the tree tip toward words as they bring outward
— “D/domina: Issues Involving Interpretation”