Accomplice reviewed by Matthew Cormier

 

Unseen, yet Heard: A Review of Lizzie Derksen’s Accomplice (2017)

 

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“Accomplice” is a powerful word, mostly because of its potential: it insinuates, involves, complicates, and befriends—choose a verb. Accomplice (2017), Lizzie Derksen’s most recent chapbook, forces readers to interrogate the accomplice and to revise their own role in the relationships they hold. The accomplice, like the cricket on the collection’s cover, is often unseen, but heard resonating throughout the collection.

I struggle to understand certain parts of Derksen’s poetry because, as I see them, I am not able to, or (more importantly, perhaps) even supposed to, empathize completely with them—what is my role, other than to bear witness? A forced complicity, in my role as accomplice, if you will. This statement is not a negative criticism, but rather an inquisitive observation. Many of the poems are distinctly personal: as a reader, I am clearly the outsider to a joke—and maybe I should be so. I am the unseen cricket all over again, voicing ignored frustrations. The experiential and private nature of these poems offers refreshing, yet ambiguous insights: “Am I confusing?” (1), the speaker poses at a certain point, to an unnamed “you,” present throughout the collection, to be sure, but also to the reader. As a reader, personally, I do not belong entirely to this space created: I read this collection in the position of a clueless accomplice, and not that of a negotiator—always reaching, trying to locate the cricket by the sound of its chirps.

Before delving deeper into the chapbook’s content, however, its peculiar form deserves mention. Readers, in thinking of form, need to first acknowledge that this collection is self-published, and self-publication is highly compelling because of its lack of screening: while Derksen may have sought help in putting together her chapbook, no editors belonging to publishing organizations were present to open and/or close certain formal doors. Visually, one could divide the work into three distinguishable parts. From “accomplice” (1) to “Sask” (9), the form could be called “familiar,” if not traditional, since the poems are read vertically, though the style vacillates between minimalism and prose poetry, and minor details, such as capitalization and punctuation, are inconsistent. The second part (11-16), however, forces an horizontal reading of the poetry, as the writing is rotated 270 degrees; moreover, the cricket encapsulates this section, with an image of its upper half opening this central segment, and an image of its lower half closing it. Again, this section varies in style, yet these poems—and perhaps not surprisingly so because of the cricket’s explicit presence—are the most relatable and powerful to the outside accomplice: it incites an empathetic response, of course, but also orders a physical complicity in that the reader must manually rotate the chapbook to read its contents. Finally, form-wise, the last section reverts to a model similar to the first. Otherwise, as rare as using literally and seriously the phrase “without rhyme or reason” may be in critical discourse, readers must consider the saying with respect to Derksen’s poetry, as it seems to follow no set structures or rules, but instead relies chiefly on bursts of emotion and flares of potent imagery—à-la-Emily Dickinson, one could say. 

On the topic of imagery, and returning to content, Derksen’s Accomplice, while at times challenging for the outsider, features some evocative and provocative images that reel in even the most distant of (ignorantly, maybe) complicit readers. In the collection’s titular poem, “accomplice” the speaker claims that they are “not jealous but… do not want to be / an accomplice” (2), surmising the dilemma: in opening the chapbook, readers become accomplices, whether or not they wish to be, and, in writing, so has the author. A sense of lifestyle, of lived experience permeates the poems: readers share in the problematic reality that “all winter we had not been young” (8), that of being “cricket-gut green, / [with] the flood of grief welling up over the brim” (9), and of finding “something inside [them] that will shrink and harden” (14). The unknown pain, like the cricket’s seemingly innocent chirping, resounds relentlessly, chipping away at an idealized sanity. For some, this chapbook will forcefully surface overfamiliar emotions: “You look up and the sentence in the book / you are reading appears on the wall” (24); for others, conflicting sentiments will dawn: “just my delicate treatment / just their mounting conviction” (25). In either case, readers may choose to embrace the empowerment offered by the role of accomplice, or refute it and enact their own agency.

An especially powerful piece, in my opinion, is “in a restaurant” (13), in which the collection opens up to include the outsider/viewer—the voyeur—and establishes a more relatable narrative to the accomplice. The details of this captured moment are particularly striking: “a Dutch woman in her forties” (13) sits across a man “whose work boots are visible beneath the tablecloth” (13). The situation is of a silent conflict, of a repressed dynamic, of helplessness—it is an active story of stasis, reflecting the contentious ambiguity of the chapbook as a whole. Most readers have been at this restaurant, on one side of the table or the other.

Lizzie Derksen, with this latest chapbook, adds to her clandestine, yet invigorating productions: she has been part of the poetry, fiction, and film scenes in Edmonton for some years now, and these works are all interrelated. Her short film, Cricket (2017), and the presence of the cricket in this chapbook, speak to that fact, assumedly. While I would caution Derksen to add some sort of preface in her collection to prepare readers for what lies in wait with respect to their immediate reading, I certainly applaud the originality and character behind these few pages; poetry, speaking generally, has recently become such a form of polemical grandeur that readers lose their personal connection to its personality—and on that note, chirp, chirp.

 

"Matthew Cormier is a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholar and PhD candidate in the English and Film Studies Department at the University of Alberta. He completed is MA in Canadian Comparative Literature and his BA in French Studies at the Université de Moncton. His research interests and publications chiefly concern postmodern, Acadian and English-Canadian fiction and poetry—particularly in relation to the digital humanities and affect theory—as well as current apocalyptic writing in Canada."

Accomplice is available for purchase here.