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BOOK REVIEW: Dominant Genes by SJ Sindu

book cover of Dominant Genes
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In S.J. Sindu’s Black River Chapbook Competition winning collection, she posits questions about female bodies and queer identities as a means to confront and interrogate tradition. Dominant Genes serves as both the title and a query regarding which genes hold power shifts from line to line and poem to poem. S.J. Sindu remarks, “questions are landfills/that loom like mountains.” The twofold nature of this statement mirrors the binary explorations in each page turn. The book is perfect for women exploring their varied roles and identities and anyone interested in how past practices interact with our present. Within these pages, Sindu draws the reader into Sri Lankan customs and Hinduism’s mythos while inserting details which cast the speaker as outsider in both family and, at times, faith.

Tensions born of duality nestle in the core of each poem: marital hopes strain against queer identity, childless plans press against grandparents in waiting, and the self walks a tightrope of familial expectation.  These poignant conflicts lay an unnerving foundation beneath personal narrative and allusions to the Mahabharata.  In “Birth Story”, Sindu writes, “My mother, out of love, stitches up my heart.” The poem describes this as merely the first step as the mother moves on to the speaker’s mouth and brain. The progression is haunting, calling for the reader to take a second and third look to unearth the more captivating undertone: it is done out of love. Much of this brief collection focuses on the crossed wires of good intentions when concern for real world consequences and emotions are not considered.   Though the speaker is often deemed and treated as other, there is also acknowledgement that this grows from misguided love rather than harsh judgment and the pain from this truth is palpable.  In her arrangements, the poet speaks to a longing to be understood and accepted in a situation that prevents its possibility, allowing the reader to inhabit that discomfort if only for these few pages. Regardless of a reader’s personal experiences, the questions posed are familiar and accessible.

Like her topics, the book itself has a dual nature with a mixture of profound nonfiction essays, introspective poems and those that, like the speaker, fall in between.  In all cases, Sindu expertly weaves disparate strands of meaning through shifts in the text that are intentionally jarring. For instance, “Mother” sets up the expectation of a mother’s true meaning when she says, “be careful” under various circumstances, but concludes with her own meaning, that “I can’t understand the fragility of your body. What I mean is, will I become soft and breakable too?” The sudden change from a mother’s concerns to a daughter’s fears draws us into her world and her thoughts.  The text is also rife with interesting polarities within metaphors. Sindu writes, “I poked/my wrists with needles/planting seeds or venting steam,” implying the liminality of both the potential and the release of self harm. In another piece, when viewing her progression into the faces of ancestors on an app, she shows the limitations of ancestry when she notes it is, “inescapable:/a bird’s foot/caught in its own nest.” Unsettling images and emotions curdle as her words and lines unfurl on the page.

This brief and wonderful journey into family dynamics and identity is one that will make you think, but also make you question. Pick up your own copy here @Blacklawrencepress.

*****

join us on the 1st and 15th of each month as Tiffany Woodley reviews must-read books from small, independent presses. if you are a press interested in having your book reviewed, please contact Tiffany through our Contact Form

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