cover image Commodore


Jacqueline Waters. Ugly Duckling, $15 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-937027-91-9

Wide-ranging in form and approach, this sly third collection from Waters (One Sleeps the Other Doesn’t) interrogates the reciprocal relationship between inner speech and language as a mode of social communication. “You want to feel like a voice is talking to you,” Waters writes, subtly gesturing at the circumstances of the work’s composition process. She elaborates in an extended sequence: “I/ remember that much// coming forward to speak/ in the tiny conference center, my voice/ long since behind me.” Waters suggests that voice is a social construct—that is only possible within a culture, yet resides within individuals even in the most solitary moments. This larger philosophical concern shapes the style of the poems, as the speaker’s interior monologues often read as a performance of ideals—of voice, identity, and narrative—that have been internalized. The performativity of the language comes through most visibly in the lineation, with its oddly timed pauses, evoking a sense of unease in a psyche populated by so many texts, voices, and personae. This internalization of a culture’s rhetoric is inevitably political; as Waters writes, “Look good and talk good, without seeming contrived about it, while/ knowing that love devalues itself in proportion to how well you/ police yourself to get it.” (Dec.)