The Porcupine’s Quill

Reviewed by Jeremy Luke Hill

Shane Neilson’s Dysphoria formally represents the titular disorder, dysphoria—a deep sense of unease with one’s self or one’s body—by displacing the traditional couplet form within the structure of the poems, producing internal rhymes that are regular but also in a sense ill at ease in their form.

Neilson uses internal rhyme in several ways and to several purposes throughout the volume, but he frequently establishes what reads like a traditional couplet — strongly rhymed, roughly iambic, and separated by something like ten syllables — then forces one or both rhymes away from the end-line. The effect is a line that approximates a traditional couplet, and even sounds like a traditional couplet to the ear, but that appears visually displaced within the body of the poem.

For example, in “Dysphoria 14,” the rhymed “key” and “we” are separated by a twelve-syllable line and sound a strong couplet when read aloud, but the “we” is positioned away from the end-line, visually displacing the couplet:

not as I do. Angel in the misguide, angel in the key,
angel in the horrible darkest part of we: singsong (25).

In “Dysphoria 16,” the rhyming “aught” and “naught,” emphasized by the rep- etition of “aught,” are both displaced from the end-line, though as slightly archaic words they sound almost a classical couplet to the ear:

the sun is aughtaught, and yet see the hands, the sun,
I have heard naught except burn paper from within. What lord (28).

Sometimes this displaced rhyme is extended even to a third line, as in “Method,” where “mute,” “brute,” and “hirsute” make an almost perfectly regular triplet of eight syllable lines, impossible for the ear to ignore, but forced into the body of a poem not intended to fit an eight-syllable line:

another mute even when lashed, the largest brute
filthy with food-stains, each man hirsute. When (41).

This review is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

Jeremy Luke Hill is the publisher at Vocamus Press, a micro-press that publishes the literary culture of Guelph, Ontario, and the managing director at Friends of Vocamus Press, a non-profit community organization that supports book culture in Guelph. He has written a collection of poetry, short prose and photography called Island Pieces and a chapbook of poetry called These My Streets. His writing has appeared in The Bull Calf, CV2Free FallThe Goose, The Rusty ToqueThe Town Crier and The Windsor Review.