Dodo Provocateur, Anita Pati
The Rialto, 2019 £6.00
Take away the pain but keep the swelling
This is an astonishing set of poems to announce yourself to the world with. The collection covers a great deal of ground within its beautifully produced pages. It ranges from the impacts of empire, racism, family to dealing with anger and mental illness.
The work is filled with wonderful phrases and sounds, like the first three lines of ‘HER WORLD IS FURY’ (incidentally, I love that the titles are all in bold as if they are positively singing their greatness from the top the world). Just say these opening lines out loud and you’ll be guaranteed to feel better. Stand back and marvel at the sibilance and alliteration of those lines — the a’s, b’s, s’s, p’s and i’s have it:
Her as a pockled crab, hidden in shingle.
Her as spat-on-sprat, slivered
bilged back in the Caspian sea.
Given the variety of ground covered, it’s impossible to hone in on one thing that unites this pamphlet, but aside from the sheer sound of it all, there’s a heavy presence of birds throughout, from the titular dodo, the Kingfisher in ‘HER WORLD…’, a ‘pigeon heart’ in ‘TWIXT’, the Lapwings and Mynah Birds in ‘PAPERDOLLS OR WHERE ARE MY CURLY SCROLLS OF SISTERS?’ to the ‘twirled ostrich eggs’ in ‘THE TALE OF WILBUR’S VICTORIAN SEWAGE PUMPS’. In fact, the last word of the book is ‘Pigeon’ in the eponymous title poem.
And this makes sense, having started the book with ‘ORNITHOLOGY’, which is almost a taxonomy of poet-types. I quote this short poem in full for maximum effect, and because I love it:
Some bards know
in their chest from the nest.
Others follow and fuss,
fusing domes from quartzy moss,
swelling the flock with voice.
For those too wounded to squawk:
earth tamps down their song.
As a statement of intent, ‘ORNITHOLOGY’ is a fantastic opener and, again, it’s one that sounds as amazing as it reads. The last line of the second stanza can stand as a neat summary of the whole book. Pati is swelling the flock with her voice and I want to hear more of it.