CUTBANK REVIEWS: "Leave Your Body Behind" by Sandra Doller

Leave Your Body Behind by Sandra Doller

Review by Claire Venery

Sandra Doller’s book of poetry, prose, and nonfiction, Leave Your Body Behind, lures the reader in with a sense of nostalgia. Her scenes are constructed like memories, where what comes before or after seems of little consequence, but in which one specific moment in time becomes vivid and clear. What matters is the emotion behind the events Doller describes, rather than the reality of what may have occurred. Each new section is preceded by excerpts from other authors and artists that set the tone for Dollar’s own writing—everyone from Gertrude Stein to Yoko Ono to Iggy and the Stooges.

The language is fluid and it is often ambiguous who the narrator is addressing. Doller states, “If you haven’t caught the rhyme you must be stupid.” Is “you” the reader? An unnamed character? Does it matter? Doller tells readers, “The only reason to read anything is to find out what to do. Instructions. The command. What’s that called, Imperative. See.” And we do see. As the book progresses, the reader begins to piece together the disjointed scenes to discover an honest depiction of the human experience—whether that experience is Doller’s or our own is unclear. Doller uses axioms like “no one I is more no one than I” and “so many past times so little past,” which hint at her personal journey and need for self-reflection. Doller plays up her coyness, stating, “I know you’d like to know more but this is what I’ve got.”

Doller’s anger comes through in lines such as “the patriarchal pus belts” and in sections about women’s fights for equality, such as when she writes, “My parents hated Amy Carter. Don’t follow Amy Carter they said. She’s a protestor. She marches. She resists. Don’t resist, rest. Don’t march, starch!” One memorable quote is, “If you can protect a girl in the world, good luck.” Her tone changing throughout, Doller also attacks the problem of racism, mocks teenagers by writing in a text-message format, and draws parallels between poetry and politics. She asks, “What is the distance between cynical or sarcastic? Do I have to choose? Can’t I be both? At the same time? Can I be frank. Can I be listful.” The answer is yes she can, and she is.

Some sections are denser than others, leaving the reader breathless and perhaps a little disoriented. Doller enjoys a good play on words, as seen when she says, “This is my most political poem. I think I’ll send it to Politico. Talking about political poetry is the same as being political. Poetical. I’m so poetical I’m political. I’m so of the people I’m for the people. I’m so peopled I’m in you.” The constant reuse and restructuring of the words “political” and “poetry” is as entertaining as it is disorienting. By the end of the thought process, the two terms become interchangeable. Doller reaches the core of her message when she concludes, “I’m so peopled I’m in you,” suggesting we are all one in the same. Another clever use of words is seen when she writes, “as a monetary reward I offer this. A dollar saved is a dollar. Burned. A Doller in the hand is worth two.” In the last line Doller cleverly switches the spelling of “dollar” to that of her own name, possibly a play on her earlier comments about a woman’s worth.

Leave Your Body Behind is part autobiographical, part lyrical critique on American society. Throughout, Doller’s collection masterfully gets to the heart of memory. This is a dynamic piece where the language rises and falls, thoughts divide and merge, and each poignant scene gets filed away in the reader’s brain, ultimately becoming part of our own memories.

Sandra Doller is the author of three books and two chapbooks, including Oriflamme and Chora (both from Ahsahta Press), Man Years (Subito Press), Memory of the Prose Machine (Cut Bank), and Mystérieuse (Anamalous), a translation of Eric Suchère. She frequently collaborates with her partner, Ben, and their book of visual anti-sonnets is published on Editions Eclipse. Doller’s work appears often in literary magazines and anthologies such as Thermos, The &Now Awards, and Fairy Tale Review. With a background in performance, Doller has completed degrees in women’s studies, cinema, and poetry, and is the founder and editrice of a small magazines & press called 1913. She lives in California, at the bottom. 

Claire Venery is an undergraduate majoring in English at the University of Montana.