Isabelle Thompson reviews Making Sense by Dide (Verve Poetry, 2023)
Dide is a multi-talented artist, producing paintings, sculptures, musical compositions and poetry. Making Sense, her debut poetry collection, follows her pamphlet Growing (Broken Sleep, 2022), described by the publisher as “a series of enigmatic texts, mysterious controlled explosions that ask questions out of deep darkness”.
Making Sense is aptly named as, throughout the whole collection, Dide attempts to unravel and explore multiple issues. She addresses aspects of identity (including identity informed by the body and medical diagnoses), how to be a good person and live a good life, trauma and loss, and the very act of communication and sense-making itself. This is a rare work, combining radical experimentation with genuine thematic substance.
Dide’s attempt to make sense of personal identity is perhaps nowhere more evident than in ‘A Cubist take on a moment in time’. Here, everything gets broken down into separate components. The poem begins with a fragmented body part: “It’s raining in this corner of my eye, / and it’s raining in that corner of my eye.” The bulk of the poem is then written in bullet points, suggesting the effortful process of reaching an understanding of selfhood. The poem’s speaker tells us how she is “reminded of how my refugee parents asked me to choose an English name”, and “how I was told I was not black, white or mixed, suggested to leave matters of race to those truly affected, yet not knowing which form box to tick.” By referencing Cubism in its title, the poem hints at the way the speaker has been forced to fracture herself, and has been unwelcome in society as a whole person.
This is a rare work, combining radical experimentation with genuine thematic substance
‘Crossing the border’ is preoccupied with identity seen through the lens of race. “I wasn’t allowed to tell people my name. / Standing at customs uncomfortable”. Another poem, ‘O’, explores identity through a broken body:
A chunk in my left abdomen has gone
I walk around like a hagstone on the beach
a glory hole for a hand in the shape of
a constant draught
‘Two for the price of one’ presents a character split in two – “This Sue” and “Other Sue”: “the surest way of making the Other Sue show their face is to carefully lay adoration at the feet of This Sue”.
Other poems attempt to make sense of identity through diagnoses which fragment how an individual might be perceived and might perceive themselves. ‘A manual for those with mild autism’ is, I assume, titled with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, as many of those within the autistic community reject labels such as ‘mild’, ‘severe’, and ‘high-functioning’ or ‘low-functioning’. Certainly, the experiences described in the poem do not appear mild, but rather represent another way in which the characters in this collection struggle to find acceptance and to understand their own identities:
You smile and nod, to show you’re friend:
make little noises of encouragement whilst they speak,
but not so loud that you overshadow; do not broach
topics of fertility, politics, religion, money, Wagner;
be on your own a lot, that way their stupidity
shouldn’t overwhelm too much […]
Another poem, ‘Sisyphus’ PMDD’, references premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and describes the constant cyclical nature of this severe form of premenstrual syndrome: “the fallen foliage rises back / with the magnetism of the sun.” ‘Psalm 43’, meanwhile, describes an experience of the potentially controversial diagnosis ‘borderline personality disorder’:
outbreaks of Borderline
make you feel like an alcoholic
washing your face in whisky,
a diabetic fed only Percy Pigs
The title of the poem references a pleading prayer in the Bible, part of which reads: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? / Why so disturbed within me?”
One particularly interesting feature of Making Sense is a series of footnotes about a character called Mol. Each footnote invites you to turn to a different page in the collection to read more about her. The first, at the bottom of the first poem in the book, tells its reader: “Missing posters up down every decade, image so wholesome can’t help but love Mol, try to find Mol [go to page 23]”. Through the refracted, broken figure of Mol, Dide again draws attention to notions of fragmented identity. These footnotes come together to create a poem in which fracture is essential to its form.
Dide’s poetry is also concerned with how to make sense of the choices life presents us with, and how we can lead good lives. ‘The juncture’ describes a series of crucial moments in a woman’s life where she must choose one path over another. It begins:
I got to the juncture for the first time alone
teenage me with small firm breasts an older
man would write about
and then I encountered the juncture
numerous times, both sides equally lush or
equally worn – equally unknown
Making sense of loss and trauma is also a key preoccupation. ‘Note on Shakespeare’s “Tired with all these, for restful death I cry”’ explores suicidality, suggesting that “despair is the greatest / prayer to life, the greatest prayer to being saved.” ‘Time and …’ describes how “the traumaed body / breathes space differently”, and attempts to understand how trauma and mental illness affect one’s perception of time. ‘g) little recipe’ uses cookery as a vehicle through which to create a metaphor of trauma. It opens: “Take my heart; mush it up until you get a thick paste. […] Keep stamping vigorously until the mixture is completely flattened. […] Once you have done this, step back and admire, your mushed heart is now ready to enjoy.”
These are poems that embody the hard work of being a messy person in a messy world. They seek to make sense of things, whilst simultaneously interrogating the very act of sense-making itself
Perhaps, though, the most striking and original way in which Dide attempts to ‘make sense’ is through an effort to understand the very act of sense-making and communication itself. The Mol footnotes are one way in which she subverts the traditional methods of poetic communication, but her innovativeness and creativity abounds elsewhere too. Perhaps in a nod to her identity as an artist as well as a poet, poems often include visual elements. ‘Time and…’ has a little picture of insects; ‘Tinnitus’ includes a QR code which takes the reader to a web search about the condition, and ‘Little dot [hyperventilating in the Universe before finding a modest place]’ is made up entirely of punctuation marks. Poems like ‘The Acclaimed’ play around with language – “Queen’s Wood in Haringey doesn’t belong to the Queen” – whilst ‘f) little philosophy text’ explores thinking surrounding Magritte’s famous Ceci n’est pas une pipe painting.
These are poems that embody the hard work of being a messy person in a messy world. They seek to make sense of things, whilst simultaneously interrogating the very act of sense-making itself. They do not claim to be able to reach conclusions, but Dide’s gift is that she has laid bare the turbulent nature of being human and of trying to understand ourselves, both intrinsically and in relation to other people and our environment. These poems, then, look at age old problems in new ways – they look inwards, and, most importantly, forwards.
Isabelle Thompson holds an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University. She has been published or has work forthcoming in a range of magazines including The Interpreter’s House, Stand and The New Welsh Review. She was the winner of the 2022 Poets and Players Competition and a runner up in the 2021 Mslexia Poetry Competition. She tweets @IzzyWithTheCats.