Emily Riopelle reviews Dodie Bellamy’s recent BathHouse Reading:
Whistle While You Dodie
by Emily Riopelle
Dodie Bellamy’s voice matched the dry monotone one I’d imagined for her in my head. Hearing her work live gives it a whole new dimension. The crass and ironic words she uses, the blunt honesty with which she writes, is magnified by the flatness of her tone. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Dodie’s work has a tendency to veer between reading like a gossip column and a porn novel, but the skill with which she weaves these elements into well written and concise prose is unmatched. At the reading she shared her piece, “Whistle While You Dixie,” written for an art show in which a group of women whistled theme songs for “sexist” movies such as Rocky. She seemed to begin her writing process by writing down her feelings and associations with whistling. It seemed she easily conjured both strong emotions about whistling and whistle-related vivid memories. In the first section she pondered the lack of whistling in two video clips: “Whistle While You Work,” from Disney’s Snow White and “You Ain’t Just Whistling Dixie” by the Bellamy Brothers. She took the opportunity to point out the overt sexual innuendo she discovered in the Snow White clip, thinking about how “whistle while you work” means make the most of your drudgery. Most of us will never watch Snow White the same way again. She pointed out the sexual and racial oppression present in the Bellamy lyrics and that “whistle dixie” means to not take something seriously. She imagined that perhaps both songs lack actual whistling because the singers have cast a certain spell over their listeners, whether to help clean the kitchen, or to ignore certain social issues, the sharp squeal of a whistle would snap the listeners out of complacency (or at least that’s the theory).
Dodie went on to a more memoir driven second half of the chapbook, recounting a time when she hitchhiked across the country with a boy tentatively named Greg and a young man driving a pick-up she named “Teen.” The connection to the whistling is tenuous at best, but still, Dodie’s story was captivating.
Dodie’s writing resists genre and categorization. She was trained in poetry, not narrative, but her writing tends toward an exciting hybrid of personal memoir and essay most of the time. Though some readers may find Dodie’s overt sexuality icky, her blunt honesty tends toward endearing. She’s honest about how she felt as she laid beside that truck driver boy, wanting his “boy meat,” but not at the same time (or at least she’s good at feigning honesty). And her vulnerability is what really pulls you in. At times, her writing feels like a personal journal, something very intimate. You feel like you are trespassing, violating her somehow by reading it, but that forbidden allure is precisely why you go on.