Winner of the Dorset Prize, selected by Lynn Emanuel
domina Un/blued dislocates the traditional slave narrative, placing the slave’s utterance within the map and chronicle of conquest. Charting a diaspora of the human spirit as well as a diaspora of an individual body, Ruth Ellen Kocher’s award-winning new book reaches beyond the story of historical involuntary servitude to explore enslavements of devotion and desire, which in extremity slide into addiction and carnal bondage.
“Ruth Ellen Kocher’s masterful fourth volume of poetry domina Un/blued is a book-length meditation on ownership, dominion, and domination. With admirable dexterity the book both decries power and celebrates empowerment. Perforated by white space, the poems seem to hover above the page, systematically undermining a linear reading. domina Un/blued is at once deeply moving and wildly intelligent… a wonderful book—sophisticated, beautiful, and innovative”
— Lynn Emanuel
”domina Un/blued is resolutely austere, with each lyric appearing to start from the erasure of the preceding—like snowfall atop a snow bank. ‘Atop’ because these are chilling poems about power and powerlessness where the speaker seems ‘beautifully removed’ like ‘a lover’s eye//…a continent unto itself’; leaving the reader subject to the stark authority of Kocher’s eerie tableaux, her dissolutions of language, love and personhood. I did not read this book, I submitted to it.”
— Douglas Kearney
”In domina Un/blued, Ruth Ellen Kocher painstakingly manipulates verse, visual field, and linguistics to reveal the historical violence and very personal implications of dominion, enslavement, and diaspora. The poems stutter and shudder through their observations toward their discoveries, merciless, feminist, and unforgiving. This is a book about power and powerlessness, and about suffering, about which Kocher is, unfortunately, never wrong.”
— Kathy Fagan
2014 PEN Open Book Award, co-winner
From the Judges’ Citation for domina Un/blued:
In domina Un/blued, Ruth Ellen Kocher layers culture on culture—the American quotidian on top of modern-day Italian on top of the remnants of Roman civilization—a palimpsestic technique that highlights how supposedly extinct contours and patterns bleed through to the present day. The primary subject of this collection is a monstrous one—slavery—and Kocher approaches it backwards, holding a mirror. This oblique approach allows us to triangulate our way to truths that remain unavailable to the standard histories, the way the heritage of slavery continues to shape our society. Kocher’s formal innovations reflect unexpected angles on her subject, and surprise us everywhere—in architectural details, in questions of translation, in the dilemmas of sexual intimacy. These repeating images and themes echo through the white space of these poems, creating resonances that are both rigorous and sensuous.
Stealing a Woman in Broad Daylight
Near un teatro di marcello noon on a very hot June day
A man on a vespa attempted to steal me. Ciao Bella
So obvious. Hello hello. You speak Italian? Yes
You do. Oh a little. Near un teatro di marcello near
An old church also Roman columns exposed at its sides.
E molto caldo I say clearly. He nods. Very hot it is.
E molto caldo.
Ruth Ellen Kocher’s domina Un/blued is a revolution. Wandering these poems with a close, patient eye—much like marveling the magnificence of Greek ruins or DC’s monuments, or dreaming an ancient Roman bathhouse complete—I can’t help but be swallowed.
— Wesley Rothman, American Microreviews
Ruth Ellen Kocher’s fourth volume of poetry is perhaps the most intriguing book of poems I have read over the past year. domina Un/blued is a stunning example of palimpsestic writing. Kocher describes domina Un/blued as a “text… built upon the ruins of two previous manuscripts, Hybrids & Monsters and The Slave’s Notebook, now buried and visible only in glimpses when unearthed.” Excavation is at the heart of these poems: of the self, of the beloved (tenuously defined), of empire and its architecture, and of language. This is a book of poems kept aloft by tension in both form and content, this vibrance makes the collection read as a book-length work. There are struggles between slave and master, dominant and submissive, word and page, and even the English and Italian languages. Kocher’s use of white space creates an interplay between text and page that can aptly be described as atmospheric. Her words materialize out of a linguistic murkiness and meander, cloud-like, from page to page.
— Andrew Ruzkowski, Poets’ Quarterly