Dominik Parisien’s debut poetry collection, Side Effects May Include Strangers, begins by shaving away at the artifice of language, attempting to build a bridge atop the unbreachable chasm between intent and extent. Parisien’s plight for conveyance and understanding begins by unravelling the mythology of the human body into fundamentally problematic ideological patterns that are discriminatory towards physical and mental disability. In the very opening poem, “Let Us For A Moment Call This Pain By Other Words,” Parisien writes: “Ask, Can we for a moment make of Beauty / the measure of our pain? And I will answer”
Parisien builds on corporeal poetics by exploring interior and exterior factors that constitute the human body; from representation to association and expectation, Parisien builds his disability poetics by dismantling and reforming existing expectations of the body altogether. We read in the poem “Calling A Body A Body,” “A body is lightning in a bottle. / Some small miracle, […] / All of them political. / Especially those that aren’t.”
Certain poems in the collection revisit pain, the body and its absurdity with a childlike lens of wonder. In the poem “Picture Book,” we read “could we call this ache a cactus, a chinchilla, / a diamond, or that ill a mole rat, a rainbow, / a nebula? Does it hop, skip, dig, or shine?”. The discovery and rediscovery of the body reflects the breaking down of socio-political artifice to once again encounter the body anew, with childlike intimacy; to encounter the familiar landscape of pain within the frame of the linguistic mythos, of growing new eyes to see instead of striving to seek new landscapes for expression.
Parisien’s poems never move away from pain and suffering, but the beauty of the book lies in its most important thesis, which is to prove that pain is not an affront to beauty. Parisien’s rebellion towards the representation and perception of physical and mental ailment is framed perhaps in heart-wrenchingly beautiful and gentle poetics that stands in the face of expectation.
The book’s last chapter explores illness and dis/ability through the generations and disabled bodies in old age, years further down the line. It’s important to see a young poet like Parisien cover such ground since the framework of disability far too often abandons the disabled body at youth. In the poem “Hospital Time,” Parisien writes “imagine / all roads leading somewhere / not a bed.”
With this powerful debut, Parisien cements himself as a formidable fresh voice, but one that is emphatically a part of a narrative and not an isolate. It’s apparent on every page where Parisien situates himself in the disabled community and how he considers himself a part of a whole and not as an island. Side Effect May Include Strangers is neither the genus nor the destination of Parisien’s conversation, but a powerful force that sets discourse into motion, from cause to effect, to understanding, conveyance and representation.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.