Dazzle by Alison Stone
Jacar Press, 2017, 89 pages, $16
In her ghazal, “Wind,” Alison Stone writes:
City years. Hidden by concrete and glass,
I lost starlight, became a stranger to wind.
Family visit. Old hurts and hungers
wake, the way guttered leaves stir in the wind.
The president speaks but says nothing.
Yuge. Big league. Bad. Jumbled phrases. Pure wind.
Obsession, addiction, politics are all inherent in the structures of the poems that make up Stone’s collection, Dazzle. I’m reminded of an architectural term, Brutalism, which is marked by repetition of windows, exteriors that show and celebrate the structure of the building on its surface, and a resistance to pretension. In a New York Times article, Brutalist architecture is described as transforming and healing “a world in need of plain dealings and powerful messages.” Stone’s poems, by adhering to external poetic structures, examine a life marked by addiction, attempts at love, and our harsh political reality.
The first and third sections of the book, “Borrow” and “Scramble,” employ a form invented by the poet Terrence Hayes. As Stone explains in her notes, this is “An eleven-line poem with a one world title. Each of the lines ends with a word [four or more letters] made entirely from the letters in the title.” Most of the titles are nouns, like “Boundaries,” “Obsession,” and “Boredom.” Thus, the lines end with words like “band” and “around,” “noose” and “bone,” “broom” and “mood.” As with a Brutalist building, we are meant to see the scaffolding of the poem: how the poem works, both emotionally and on the surface. The words that end the line are necessary to the integrity of the structure; their small structure included in the theme of the poem. In “Marriage,” notice how Stone ends the line breaking the word to remain true to the form:
If both partners agre-
e to frequent sex, the magi-
c comes back. Armed with our meag-
er bodies, we aim for the mira-
cle beyond the mire.
Stone devotes her second section, “Nuzzle,” to the ghazal, a form that relies on the repetition of the ending word of the line and closed couplets. Again, the structure of the poem is on the exterior, recalling the repeating rows of windows. These couplets enclose metaphysical concerns—love, sadness, belief—and are the perfect structure for Stone’s explorations in this section. In “Faith,” the speaker ponders:
Nights the soul squirms and failures run
laps in your mind, what do you reach for? Booze? Faith?
My friend wore crotch-length skirts, laughed loud and long.
Now she’s “saved.” Her glassy eyes ooze faith.
You can run from love, turn your back on regret,
decline gratitude. You can’t refuse faith.
After days of cranky busyness, the way
you moan my name in wonder renews faith.
I would be remiss if I didn’t gush over Stone’s inclusion of David Bowie in this section. Bowie embodies the speaker’s past and the awareness of death’s inevitability, as well as the desire for artistic and personal regeneration. The ghazal, “Ashes to Ashes,” states: “He kissed the crowd with stardust. Then he sang./Limits wiped away like makeup when he sang.” The speaker laments human limitations within the boundaries of the poetic form:
His personas dulled, bled moonbeams. Every
time re-formed, again he rose. Again he sang.
Changed to dolphins by his wishing, we swam free
and desperate in the dream ocean he sang.
Queer, odd, lonely, alien—his skewed eyes
turned us numinous. Amen, we sang.
The news knocked us back to our teen names.
Look up here, I’m in heaven, he sang.
The need for freedom is reflected in Stone’s departure from these entirely imposed forms in the final section, “Free.” Though the outer poetic structures aren’t as obvious, Stone still contains most of the poems within literary “rules,” that aim to break out of themselves. The poems evoke broken glass and broken hearts. In “Intimate Cento,” (a form which is constructed by pieces of other poems), we are introduced to “our room of curtainless windows.” There are mirrors and seaglass throughout “Free,” culminating in the magnificent “On the Anniversary of Kristallnacht, Donald Trump is Elected President.” As if history were in an obsessive loop, addicted to violence, Stone writes, “It starts with breaking glass.” The poem brings from the beginning of the Holocaust to the present,
First reports: Hijab ripped off,
a gay man stabbed.
Our hearts are breaking.
How the pieces catch the light.
The poems in Dazzle are impossible to look away from. The mind’s eye is drawn to the shapes of these poems and how they shatter and reform within the confines of their structures. The collection does indeed “create landscapes inside crates,” while demanding the reader “Imagine how they hold a body.” Like David Bowie, who constantly re-invented himself and his music, the same genius informed his art. Alison Stone resists the structure she imposes; the structures—death and grief—that dare to limit us all. “Why curl up, a dog in a crate,” Stone asks in “Creativity.” The poet defies these outwardly rigid rules, the Brutalist structure, and challenges us all to
Stand on the Master’s shoulders but vary
their rhythms. Find colors in a kiss, a pond, a tire.
Paint the life you crave.