"It’s hard to describe the experience of reading The Devastation"

Posted 7 Mar 2019 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Melissa Buzzeo – The Devastation (Nightboat, 2015)

In the latest in a series of books by members of the Writing Squad on what book most influenced them, Dominic Leonard writes about a book that does not end with the page...

Buzzeo DavastationIt’s hard to describe the experience of reading The Devastation. It is a long (nearly 200 page) prose poem in several sections, tracing the end of a relationship through its reflections, difficulties, freedoms and relations, using the ongoing metaphorical dynamic of a slow, out-of-time sea-wreck. Refuse builds on the ocean floor as the fragments of what was once intimate connection is thrown down there, left to float away. The poem seems to disregard itself in the act of writing; it is a book, like Bhanu Kapil’s Ban en Banlieue, largely about the inability to write in the face of violence and pain.

I first read this book in the frantic weeks leading up to my undergraduate dissertation submission, and despite its intensity it became a remarkably calming presence in my life – I continued to read it through revision for my finals and into summer. Looking back through it now I can remember the experience of first falling into this book; it is difficult and disorienting, like being lost at sea. The lines often don’t line up in a way that makes immediate sense; M. NourbeSe Philip describes it as a ‘liquification of language that simultaneously drowns yet buoys us up.’ The accumulative effect is one of being utterly adrift from the moors of language:

‘Death to death water to chatter. The recovered chemicals the charter. / Catheter charter / Heart / Beat.’

The book gestures outwards, indicating that it does not begin nor end with the page. Buzzeo’s dynamic use of the line and of white space challenge the very parameters of a book, both literally and metaphorically. The second part of the poem, ‘An Object,’ is one page, on which the poet promises that if she could, she would break off a piece of The Devastation and give it to the reader: ‘Not like a text, like an object.’ I tore most of the page out, and keep it in the back of a notebook.

Dominic LeonardAbout Dominic Leonard

Dominic studied English in Oxford and is now studying for an MA in Postcolonial Literary and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. His poems and reviews have appeared in Poetry London, Oxford Poetry, The Scores, amberflora, Zarf, and elsewhere. In 2018 he won the Eugene Lee Hamilton Sonnet Prize, was the runner-up for the Jane Martin Prize, and a finalist for the Hollingworth Prize.

Dominic’s pamphlet love, bring myself is published by Broken Sleep Books.


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