Ian Duhig’s “Debbie” as Poet

Poetics positively hums with excitement about identity, persona, selfing. Poets play with voice as if the phrase “one’s own voice” were one side of a coin, the other being, the other’s voice. This concept links with the concept of style, since style evokes the particular impression left on soft material by the will of the artist, her signature in the shape and sound of the fluid elements of literacy.

This conceptual cluster can be heard as only so much noise, distracting, confusing, frightening. ¬†Yet the experience undergone by the poet in making a poem is often a “kenotic” one in which through a process of discrimination the poem comes finally to the “sound” she wants her poem to make. Is it her sound?

We may say poets “sound” the material, diving deep into it, willing to have their voice transformed into another’s. What poets dive into in this kenotic practice is a fluid matrix, in one sense, and, in another a “nothing.” A creative nothing.

Ian Duhig’s The Blind Road-Maker (Picador 2016) explores the realm of “selfing” (no, I’m not happy with that term, but it’s convenient) with tremendous energy and freedom and wit. He can “do” many voices. His kenotic skill allows him to explore tragic registers as well as comic. It’s all too possible to take Duhig’s imagination on trust. This note is meant to foreground something easily overlooked.

In a three-part poem titled “Contracted Silences,” we find this:


 Debbie Reynolds,
 ghost singer Kathy
 in Singin' in the Rain
 had a ghost singer
 as unsung again.

 In Debbie: My Life,
 Reynolds names her,
 only to spell it wrong.
 I right it here: Noyes.
 This noise is her song.

The conceptual fluidity of this poem allows us to hear “right” as “write” and, finally, the name as the sound of the ghost singer’s name.