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Aug 19

Blot Lit Reviews: We Can’t Read This by Meg Day

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We Can’t Read This, Meg Day
Gazing Grain Press, 2013
Reviewed By Elizabeth Mobley

There is a reason why Meg Day was named a Best New Poet in 2013; her chapbook, We Can’t Read This, is edgy and reflective—a fresh and unexpected new exploration of written, signed, oral, and expressive language.

Day challenges the nature of communication as we know it, with themes such as linguistics, ASL, deafness, (dis)ability, and written expression of voiced and signed “sounds.”

In “when i bilabial your plosives,” Day merges two ideas together that shouldn’t fit: linguistics and sensuality. She writes,

when i plosive plosive your epiglotto-pharyngical we are bilabial & sometimes labiodental. oralize me. eyebrows up me. plosive plosive
until my wernicke’s clench

and I am on the edge of my seat— a reaction that never occurred while sitting in my graduate level course on linguistics! Meg Day, you can teach me articulatory phonetics any day!

Three of the most thought-provoking poems in the collection, all titled “forget everything you know about the way a body is built,” force the reader to rethink the nature of bodies, language, and body language. In the first of the three, she writes a list of words in one strip down the middle of the page. Each of these words, such as “incomplete,” “silent,” and “exotic,” are crossed out with a single black horizontal line; this effect causes the reader to question not only how bodies are built, but the ways in which we form ideas about the body in reference to communication and language.

The second poem of the series of three starts,

voice begins in the hands
where first words
crop up in rows
finger beddings
blooming

calling to memory a child’s frustration in the early stages of learning to communicate. As Day points out, we all begin to speak by use of our hands; what most of the hearing world fails to consider, however, are the challenges of the deaf and hearing-challenged, who continue to communicate largely by making use of their hands. This poem dares the hearing world to take a candid look at

social constructions in place which often
shut out those with hearing difficulties.

In the third poem of this sequence, only the title is written out; the body of the poem is comprised entirely of ASL pictures that describe the motions and symbols for different words. What’s striking to me about this poem (which I cannot read), is that the nine symbols contain images of four different people, most of which androgynous in appearance.

Perhaps my favorite poem in the collection, “what is in the hand carries what is in the head,” opens with an allusion to a popular children’s Sunday school song; she begins,

the whole world is in our hands

taking control of an idea that many of us grew up believing: that the world was in God’s hands. Day challenges this idea by taking back the power. The two short stanzas of this poem are laden with myriad allusions and interpretations, but she ends with

we handle & manhandle
hand off
but mostly talk to the

and we are left with more questions than answers. Much of the poetry of this collection calls the reader to action—the action of deep thought and consideration of the meaning of communication.

None of the titles in this chapbook are bolded or underlined. Instead, they are written in the same font as the poems, and they do not stand out in most of the poems. Although it can make the title difficult to differentiate from the body of the poems, this is not a detriment. Rather, this adds a cyclical nature to the text, and it mirrors the ambiguous beginnings and endings of signed symbols, which is another theme of the collection.

We Can’t Read This is a candid and honest rendering of Day’s various truths. It’s passionate, political, and demands that we inspect what the ideas of (D)deafness, (dis)ability, communication, speech, and hearing versus listening really mean. In “COCHLEAR IMPLANT : EX-GAY THERAPY,” for example, Day posits analogies such as

HEARING AID ; CONDOM

and

AMERICA : CAPITALISM

which cause us to really think about the connections between these concepts. This poem is a personal glimpse into the inner-workings of Day’s mind, and we thank her for it. Many of the poems in this collection are experimental in nature, but don’t let that stop you from picking up a copy—even lovers of traditional prose can uncover much beauty in this chapbook.

Experts in linguistics and those fluent in ASL can certainly glean some of the nuances I have surely missed while reading Meg Day’s collection; however, even with my lack of knowledge in these areas, I still became infatuated with these poems—and with their author. I urge you to drop what you are doing today and order We Can’t Read This. Read it again and again and again, because despite the title, you can read this, and you will thank yourself (and Meg Day’s artistry) for doing so.

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