Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review: To The One Who Raped Me by Dustin Brookshire

When Dustin Brookshire asked me to read his chapbook manuscript entitled "To The One Who Raped Me," which will be published as a Pudding House release, I wasn't sure what to expect. I don't know Dustin that well (yet). We've chatted a bit online, mostly about poetry, but we've never met face to face. He accepted one of my poems for his online publication Limp Wrist and I've read some of his poems in a few publications, so when I got this chapbook manuscript via e-mail I was eager to take a look and honored he wanted to share it with me. 

Of course the title intrigued me and after reading the collection I have to say it is the perfect title. These poems are raw, blunt, and honest, which are all things I look for in poetry and are all conveyed by the title. The poems deal with what the title says: rape, but these are not your typical rape poems (are there typical rape poems?). I guess what I mean is that they don't deal with rape in any way I've seen rape dealt with before. For starters the victim of the rape is male. Not something you are going to see on Lifetime, that's for sure. Also the rapist isn't some criminal or stalker or thief. These poems explore the fact that 2/3 of all rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. How do I know this? Well, because Dustin places facts about rape between the poems. At first I was unsure about this technique. I thought why not let the poems speak for themselves? But after reading the manuscript the second time I realized how much these facts and information added to my perspective and response to the poems. 

The thing I loved most about this chapbook was the inclusion of film and television (surprise, surprise). As I've stated to many people and told to my students many times over, you can't just throw in pop culture references, they have to be tied to something else and vital to the overall idea of the poem. Dustin's poems do just that. They take the idea of rape from various films and television and use them to explore the experience of the speaker (a victim of rape). 

The first poem in the manuscript is entitled "I Don't Like To Say The Word Rape" and it begins with the lines: "When I say the word rape / I think of Jodi Foster in The Accused." This sets up the whole chapbook perfectly as various other films and TV programs come into play in other poems. Why does this work so well? It works because underneath the overarching story of someone dealing with the aftermath of rape there is the wider discussion of how we as a culture view rape and it is often through such mediums as film and television. 

Why I love using pop culture in my own poetry is because it is our collective pool of knowledge. In a way pop culture has replaced religion. When things happen to us we pull references from pop culture. We get raped and we think of Jodi Foster. It makes sense. Another great reference in this collection is the poem entitled "Law & Order: SVU." The poem begins: "I do not watch for open endings. // I watch to see the rapist slammed / against the interrogation room wall,/ to stand before the judge / and receive a hefty sentence." Here pop culture becomes our therapy. We watch these shows to see the bad guys get what's coming to them. We know by the end someone will be punished. This poem not only deals with the speaker's own struggles but gets at that deeper need our society has to feel like justice is being served. If we see it on TV maybe we will believe it is happening in real life too.

All of the poems in this manuscript are powerful. Other stand out poems include "How Can I Tell Them?," which deals with the speaker's parents, "No Comedy in Tragedy," which has another great film reference and captures a very uncomfortable moment, and "My Therapist Asks What Image Haunts Me," which is perhaps the rawest of the poems and my personal favorite. 

The final poem in the chapbook is the title poem: "To The One Who Raped Me." This is the perfect poem to end the manuscript because it doesn't wrap everything up tightly, but rather leaves the wound still open, but possibly healing. Here we get a direct address that really brings the rapist fully into being. I love the line "I want your mother to know--" because it is so simple yet so charged. The poem goes on to list all the ways the speaker imagines his attacker dying but ultimately ends with what can never be erased. This you will have to read to find out. 

I wish Dustin luck with this great chapbook and can't wait to see the final product when Pudding House publishes it. I want to thank him for sharing it with me. 


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