whittling a new face in the dark by dj dolack
black ocean, 2013; 87 pp
Reviewed by Rebecca Ligon


DJ Dolack’s WHITTLING A NEW FACE IN THE DARK combines stark, natural imagery with prose that slices right down to the bone. It’s sharp and precise in its arrangement on the page, and each poem contains small epiphanies about life and its myriad challenges. In the first poem of the collection, “What They Want Me to Tell You,” Dolack writes:

With your hands, you might
create a space and say

I love you this much

without knowing who it will be...

I love you
how the elderly love bakeries,

in the way they say cake.

Personal attachments and detachments, death, and unmet expectations mingle and linger together, wind and winter playing off one another like familiar lovers. 

Separated into three distinct parts, this collection feels like a cold wind conjuring up nearly-forgotten memories. Words are important to Dolack, as he references words – or the lack of or space between words – in not only the opening epigraph, but elsewhere within the collection. In the epigraph for the poem “Mamihlapinatapei,” Dolack defines a word in the indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego that means “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.”

That space between words, the absence of language in this darkness, can be more important than anything spoken. Dolack writes about the machines that churn inside us, pushing us forward even when we think we have nothing left to give. WHITTLING A NEW FACE IN THE DARK focuses on what happens in our lives when words fail us, or when words can hardly describe what we feel moving within us.