Moving, important, & gently radical: Review of “Dispatch”

Dispatch by Cameron Awkward-Rich | 75 pages | Persea Books

by Kelsey May

I first fell in love with Cameron Awkward-Rich’s poems when I read Transit, a 2015 chapbook published by Button Poetry. Awkward-Rich’s newest collection, Dispatch, was published in December by Persea Books and grapples with distraught familial relationships, the persecution of those whose gender identities fall outside cultural expectations, and the national crisis of violence against Black and brown folks. The poeticism of these pieces is moving and often adds a tenderness to circumstances that are anything but.

One of the most moving pieces was “Everywhere We Look, There We Are,” which is part-erasure, part-rearrangement, part-commentary of a 1903 New Orleans newspaper article.

[In the next room, wailing.
Man woman can’t tell.
Any human specificity obliterated
by pain. Someone walks
into the room where I am
pinned. Looks at me, my paperwork.
Backs away shaking his head]

The poem is spacious, sprawling across eight pages, an occupancy honoring the life of Dora Trimble, undoing the cramped brashness of the newspaper article.

In “It’s Important to Know What a ‘Man’ ‘Is’”, Awkward-Rich writes:

There’s a version of the story
in which the sweet girl

never makes it home,
her lungs, unbraided

by salt. But because I did,
because I learned

the lesson, next time I slid
down the throat of a man,

I knew, kick
or not, what I was—

driftwood, kelp, glass
bottle. Moved through.”

These poems ache with the pain of being discarded, the bite of persecution paid for in breath and body. And they aren’t always certain of how to fix the problems they dredge up:

“[T]his is what I tell my friend whose eye
has been twitching since last Tuesday, what I

tell my student who can’t seem to focus
her arguments, who believes, still

that it’s possible to save the world
in 10-12 pages double-spaced, & without irony

I’m asking Have you tried going for a run?

In fact, one poem, “Meditations in an Emergency,” meets the reader in that place of global grief:

“I wake up & it breaks my heart. I draw the blinds
& the thrill of rain breaks my heart. I go outside…
walk among the buildings, men in
Monday suits. The flight of doves the city of tents
beneath the underpass, the huddled mass, old
women hawking roses, & children all of them,
break my heart. There’s a dream I have in which I
love the world… There are no borders, only wind.”

One glory of Dispatch is that it doesn’t examine gender identity as a science experiment or a psychological disorder; it proudly cherishes the existence of gender as a spectrum and triumphs: “I draw a frame around the frame, /…the body not a question.” These poems ground in the everyday normalcy of life despite the challenges that accompany marginalization:

“Sometimes, before light breaks
I lace my shoes & race outside.
I try to touch everything—
my neighbor’s rusty wind
chime, the fallen trees. My soles
drum the concrete, hands strum
each metal fence…”

And they leave the reader with such hope:

“But she looked at me
like a child. She spun
her head. She laughed
& laughed at my awful music
& I thought Oh. Yes.
This is the world
with me in it. It is
beautiful. It is.”

Awkward-Rich, in his poetic and research-thorough genius, has created a compelling collection that transfixes and soothes. Dispatch (Persea Books) is available from your local independent bookseller for $15.95.

Thank you to the publisher for a review copy!

 

 

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