Doe Lace Parker, whose poetry has been published in a past edition of Sink Hollow, is coming out with a new chapbook titled The Good House & The Bad House. I had the opportunity to read this chapbook, and was blown away by the complexity of Parker’s poems. Both Parker’s use of language, and ability to balance multiple elements within each poem were impressive to me.
The chapbook contains 29 poems that build, each one upon the last, to tell the story of an individual struggling with issues of identity, belief, and family. The speaker of the poems does not identify with their biological sex. This is a central conflict between the speaker and their family. Throughout the poems, readers will journey with the speaker through memories of the speaker’s family, and the house they grew up in, to learn the way these experiences shaped them.
I would describe the tone of this chapbook as raw, reflective and honest. Parker’s poems work on multiple levels to achieve these effects. On the literal level, the poems explore the childhood of the speaker, who was born in a female body, but does not identify as such. On the metaphorical level, the poems examine the speaker’s identity, and how it ties into their childhood home. The home that the speaker grew up in is cleverly compared to the speaker’s female body. The parallels between the two are evident, yet subtle. Essentially, the speaker doesn’t feel comfortable in their traditional childhood home, or in their female body. Parker illustrates this connection clearly in lines such as, “my eyes are grey televisions, mouth is a bathtub, my spine is drywall.”
For me, one of the most intriguing elements of this chapbook is the focus on “place memory” which Parker describes as, “the storage of brain information only accessible in a specific environment.” For the speaker, this environment is their childhood home. As a reader, I appreciated the way Parker seamlessly wove science and emotion into the chapbook. Parker does this in a way that both tugs at my emotions, and fascinates me. Themes of home and family seem to color every poem. More specifically, the idea that a home may not always feel like a home, and that a family may not always feel like a family, seems to linger in the undertones of each poem. There are outlines of the house in question throughout the book. These black and white outlines add another layer of context to the poems. To me, the house seemed to be tied to the speaker’s memories, childhood, and family. Specifically, the house seemed to be linked to the speaker’s relationships with their mother, father, and grandmother.
Themes of family, religion and identity are at war in many of the poems. This is especially evident in lines such as, “i will build you a good Christian daughter out of yarn,” “we do not cry in the house / we serve the lord” and “i wasn’t allowed to cut my hair.” All three of these lines indicate that the speaker’s family has strict ideas about what a good Christian daughter is supposed to be like. It’s made clear that the speaker’s identification as transgender does not align with the ideals of their family.
Something that immediately gripped me was Parker’s use of fill-in-the-blanks in their poems. To me, these blanks seemed to imply that the speaker’s situation could (and has) happened to many people. It was easy for me to imagine people filling in the blanks with their own painful experiences.
One of my favorite aspects of Parker’s poems was that the speaker was written as observing their own past self (past-myself) in many of the poems. For example, “past-myself is sitting on the window ledge outside of the house with their legs parallel to the front of the house.” I appreciated that the speaker’s past self was portrayed as a different person who was being watched by the speaker. This indicated, to me, that the speaker had changed significantly over time.
Parker’s use of image was excellent, “there’s a candle on the table & every time someone closes the door the flame bends.” Their use of metaphor is fascinating, “i eat entire apricots, the pits make my stomach into a riverbed,” and their use of first person narration gives the poems an “in the moment” feel. If you appreciate poetry that grapples with issues of identity, complex familial relationships, religion, home, belonging, memory and childhood then I recommend reading Doe Lace Parkers new chapbook, The Good House & The Bad House.