Darcie Dennigan runs a reading series in Providence, and a couple of years ago I bumped into my old friend Leeore on the street outside the bar that hosts the readings. Leeore, a musician and novelist, had the elegant good fortune to attend acting camp with Darcie years before. He must have recently discovered her first book, Corinna A-Maying the Apocalypse. “Her poetry is staggering,” he said.
This word choice seems exactly right. Darcie Dennigan sounds like no one else of her generation. Her poems are devoid of posturing. She writes of lofty things (angels, saints, and ghosts!) in language that is comfortable as elevated bar talk, somehow both plainspoken and ambitiously inventive. In Corinna, she uses a shimmering long line that reminds me of Larry Levis and requires an extra-wide trim size. In her second book, Madame X, recently out from Canarium Books, we get some of those long, almost prosey lines, but she’s doing something entirely different in about half of the poems – if we can call them poems. They are blocks of prose, one or a few paragraphs each, stretching over a couple of pages like the very short fiction of Diane Williams or Lydia Davis. And most of them are built not of “lines” or sentences but phrases separated by ellipses.
These rampant ellipses, coming two or three or four to a line on the page, have an unsettling effect. Someone once told me that he finds the ellipses in weather advisories uncannily terrifying and I have to agree – what on earth do they signify?
TIMING…SNOW WILL INCREASE IN INTENSITY AND BECOME HEAVY AT TIMES SOUTH OF INTERSTATE 80 TUESDAY AFTERNOON…GRADUALLY SPREADING NORTH INTO NORTHERN ILLINOIS BY TUESDAY EVENING. SNOW…WHICH WILL BE HEAVY AT TIMES…WILL CONTINUE TUESDAY NIGHT INTO WEDNESDAY MORNING. LAKE ENHANCED SNOW SHOWERS WILL CONTINUE NEAR LAKE MICHIGAN IN NORTHEAST ILLINOIS WEDNESDAY MORNING…SHIFTING INTO NORTHWEST INDIANA DURING THE AFTERNOON. HAZARDS…WHITE-OUT CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED AT TIMES TUESDAY NIGHT AS VERY HEAVY SNOW AND STRONG WINDS RESULT IN BLIZZARD CONDITIONS. SNOWFALL RATES OF AT LEAST 2 TO 3 INCHES PER HOUR ARE POSSIBLE…ESPECIALLY WHERE THUNDER SNOW MAY BE PRESENT.
The ellipsis is often used casually (in email, for instance) to indicate a pause or a trailing off. But technically it means “omission,” something excised or left out. And this is why ellipses can be frightening. What is being withheld?
In Madame X, the ambiguity is doubled – it feels as though we’re receiving the message (via radio? a telegram? a Ouija board?) in bits and pieces, but it seems equally possible that the poet “received” it that way herself, that she is merely transcribing the poem, a la Jack Spicer’s “poetry as dictation,” wherein the poet records transmissions from an “invisible world.” Is she withholding something from us, or is something being withheld from her? Here’s what it looks like (from “The Other Forest”):
To insects – sensual lust … was how I began my talk … On Paradise … at the local library … It would be a nuns-only audience … I knew … ! So I’d donned my habit … wore a ton of More Spirit than Flesh make-up … And … brought props …. props in my large portable closet … l’Armoire Secrete … Got to the library assembly room … Fuck … the one … only … person in the audience … my husband … Who … I knew … ! always preferred I get right to the … Thus … Paradise is sex sans bodies … Paradise: Travesty … Mechanical birds … Exegetes … Was I losing … ? Quickly to witticisms … I don’t like sexing but I love having sexed … The audience member … the audience member was … demanding to see the inside .. of l’Armoire Secrete … Fuck … I … I began fumbling … with the golden lock …
Isn’t that marvelous strange? What are we reading? A journal? Pure thought? It’s a poem of course, a series of decisions, made with purpose, but the ellipses create the illusion of off-handedness, of unplanned speech, almost like a person talking in their sleep, giving us glimpses of a world we have no possible access to. Later in the poem she writes: “Was I saying all this out loud … or in my head … ?” And this is the question the book seems constantly to be asking itself.
The only poet I know of who does so much with ellipses is Chelsey Minnis, my favorite of the so-called Gurlesque school. Sometimes Minnis’s ellipses are behaved, three dots in a row at the end of a line as in “Fifi, No, No,” my early pick for poem of the century (“Fifi, I thought I told you to stop touching me with your soft little hands …”). In other poems they run on endlessly, in rows of dozens of dots with a few spare words in between, so there are far more spots on the page than letters, and they become a new kind of punctuation, like Alice Fulton’s “bride” (==).
Dennigan’s ellipses don’t reinvent the sign, but through overuse create an almost frustrating tension between the poem on the page and the poem as we hear it in our heads. How do we “hear” the ellipsis? How long is the silence, if we hear it at all, and how does the silence of omission differ from the silence of words we see but don’t read out loud?
-Elisa Gabbert is a regular contributor to Lemon Hound.