Kat Dixon’s Black Racket Ocean was released in February of 2014 and I’ve had a pdf of it on my laptop since December of 2014. I read it – all 113 pages of it – for the first time this November and frantically messaged Dixon on Twitter: “I don’t know what’s wrong with me” (I’m paraphrasing here) “and why it took me so long to read your book… but it is fucking fantastic.”
It is fucking fantastic.
It’s fantastic for all the reasons poetry books are generally fantastic: the subject matter is interesting and the delivery is compelling. But it’s also the kind of poetry book that is, for lack of a better word, kind of inspiring. Not “inspiring” like books that help middle-to-upper-class white women manifest their dreams via motivational quotes on Pinterest kind of inspiring, but “inspiring” like you are reading something both innovative and relatable. It’s not the friend that finishes your sentences, or says what you were going to say but better – it’s the friend whose brain makes you go “wow, how do those thoughts even happen” and “yes, totally this” simultaneously. There is some really fascinating stuff going on with Dixon’s line-breaks. There is repetition used in a way that turns meaning labyrinthine rather than pounding it into clarity. There is even some rhyme. And it works.
If the Woman Is Told
If the woman is told she is crazy
after so many years in one marriage
is she crazy still? I went crazy
when told I’d turned twenty, when told
I’d turned. I was crazy before that,
maybe, I was maybe crazed. To become
twenty meant to become a woman,
which of course meant to come up
dressed in women’s clothing, to come
up for air, from underneath
any man, any man-sized creature coming
into what could be a man, like church
like sea breeze, gentle, dead melody.
It did not mean to kill all the men,
to kill what men would make me, a woman,
to kill what men would have me say.
Black Racket Ocean’s poems are laced throughout with self-awareness, an awareness of “what men would make me,” “what men would have me say.” There are multiple lines that mention poems –
“This is a girl who knows what a poem / is supposed to feel like”
“he didn’t / want to make me into some good poem”
“poem-shaped as a boy would / Have me”
– and women in poems, and women in men’s poems, all of this getting at the constant argument of whether we are allowed to author our own narrative while not being about that, as in not being a book that has A Point but a book that is A Person, or rather the shed snakeskin of a person, marking the world with its irrefutable, alive in-your-faceness. It’s a chronologically reversed echo of Dixon’s Girl in Poem from Tinderbox Poetry Journal: “Who writes / This poem? Who is allowed to write this poem?” It’s a sister work to something like Kate Zambreno’s Heroines, which also speaks to the writing and overwriting of women’s narratives while loudly telling its own. It’s political, because the personal is political, and it’s personal, because it’s intelligent and human and vulnerable and strong, and it’s written really, really well in a style that’s no-one else’s. Summary: It’s fucking fantastic.