Ian MacDonald reviews Dodie Bellamy

EMU Student Ian MacDonald responds to Dodie Bellamy’s recent BathHouse reading:

Dodie Bellamy “Whistle While you Dixie”

The few pictures I had seen of Dodie Bellamy in the few works of hers I’d read did not seem to reflect her real-life counterpart. From my vantage amongst the stadium seats I saw her emerge from the adjoining hallway and though I immediately recognized her, her presence was different than I expected; more “hetero-normative” (to borrow a turn of phrase that seems to frequently pop up in her work). Nothing at all then like the academic caricature/extra from a Tim Burton movie that I had foolishly anticipated.  In truth, she reminded me of my mother. And with that association in mind, I suddenly imagined my mother giving voice to some of Dodie’s more colorful writings, my own mother saying thing like “I’m curling back on my spine, ass up in the air, cunt pointed towards the ceiling, and he’s plunging into me” and as this played out across my mind’s eye in all its shakey-cam, neon splendor the real Dodie took the stage and began to read and the horrible spell was mercifully broken.

And before long, my revulsion gave way to laughter. The ensuing pieces Dodie read from we’re comical and immeasurably honest, illuminative and entertaining. There was happy giggling at regular intervals. As I sat and listened and laughed with everyone else I wondered how she choose what to read for these sort of things and how her own perceptions of the venue might influence this choice. Did she decide prior to arriving or was the decision made upon entering the room and appraising for the first time all the faces in attendance? If it is the latter, what was it about our face, Eastern Michigan University’s face, that implored her to share stories and musings about the “inherent male-ness” of whistling, the not-so-subtle libidinal subtext from a scene out of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and an autobiographical account of a young and amorous Dodie hitching a ride with an even younger and more amorous glue-sniffing boy? (All of these from her new chapbook Whistle While You Dixie)

My classmates and I were tasked with not only attending the reading but with asking a question during the Q and A session to follow. Our teacher advised us not to ask something like “So what’s next for Dodie?” the implication being: don’t embarrass me. The night before I sat with my laptop and brainstormed a number of questions, all of which by night’s end, I was sure, would embarrass my teacher. So with a shrug for time wasted I Ctrl-A’ed them into a big blue block of text and hit Delete. Poof!

It was when I passed the little table on the way into the auditorium the next day that I finally thought of a question. The table displayed three short stacks of one of Dodie’s books, presumably to be sold and signed after the reading. It struck me as a small number, maybe fifteen in total that comprised those three stacks and even though I was reasonably sure a great many more hid beneath the table I found myself lamenting the thought that Dodie probably didn’t make much money as an author. Ascending the steps toward my seat I looked across all the faces and wondered how many of them aspired to be writers and of those, how many would actually go on to make a living at it? Would I? Do colleges bear any responsibility for churning out far more applicants than the market can bear or does it fall entirely on the students who go into debt majoring in say, underwater basket weaving, against the practical wishes of their parents?

Dodie responded to my question with her trademark honesty and frankness. Writing in the New Narrative genre (and even mainstream genres) usually requires independent wealth or supplemental income; and the internet seems ripe to amplify rather than decrease this necessity. We’ll see. All I can say is that I enjoyed the reading and I hope she sold all the books she brought — and that my question didn’t embarrass my teacher.

Anthony Alaniz reviews Dodie Bellamy

EMU student Anthony Alaniz reviews Dodie Bellamy’s recent BathHouse reading:

Whistle While You Dixie and Bellamy

 “I was on an adventure,” proclaimed Bellamy as she read from her hard-to-find book, Whistle While You Dixie in the Eastern Michigan University Student Center Auditorium on February 7, 2012.

Whistle While You Dixie is split into an essay and a narrative.  The essay encompassed the first half of her hour long reading and divulged into such topics as the blatant sexual overtones of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, at least according to Bellamy.

Sadly, though, one cannot watch Snow White in the same, childish, way again, after Bellamy’s explicit reading.

Bellamy excels when she begins to dive into her narrative.

Her power and, what some would say, her nonchalant attitude towards sexuality and the human experience, courses through her slight frame as she reads while recounting her experience on returning home to Indiana.

She meets a young boy who is, “too young to be taken seriously.”

It is her conversational tone through, not only the narrative, but the essay as well, that make her reading, and of course her writing, approachable and easily relatable to any young reader or writer who have had any human experience with sexuality.

The greatest moment of the reading, though, wasn’t the reading at all.  The question and answer session afterwards gave great insights to Bellamy’s own thinking about writing.

When asked if the proliferation of technology would make it easier for writers to reach great popularity, she said, “I don’t know if new technology will make that possible.”

Bellamy’s greatest literary quality is her honesty both in writing and in lecture, yet the true gem to Bellamy is hearing her read her experiences.

Granted, like every writer, she wants them to think, “That I’m brilliant.”  After the reading, I have to agree with her.

Listening to Bellamy as she recounts mundane events should make a writer, like it did me, realize and understand that there is almost always a story in life itself.  This is something Bellamy excels at, especially in Whistle While You Dixie.

Amy Oleynik reviews Dodie Bellamy

Student Amy Oleynik reviews Dodie Bellamy’s BathHouse Reading from earlier this month:

Dodie Bellamy: Her reading of “Whistle While You Dixie” on February 7, 2012

I came to realize in a short amount of words that Dodie sounds like the friend you think you have, the one who says everything too honestly and with too much raw energy, with a potential to go any which way. The one you meet and you’re instantly insulted, which is why you like her so much. Comfortable, yet edgy enough that you don’t sit too close. The type of friend you wouldn’t take home to your parents for Sunday-Monday-AnyDay dinner. In fact, you can’t even mention her lest they ask you, “Oh, what does she write?” or “How did you meet?” which would end up in unsavory stories or explanations you find comical, but obviously those old fogies wouldn’t budge a lip. You’d be reduced to giving her only as a name or at least what she looks like. But questions can still ensue so you bottle her up inside. Yet ever persistently, Dodie peeks out of your conversations and you still trample over yourself to not include her in every word. Either my subconscious is lacking in strength or Dodie’s mark has extreme gusto.

The correct answer is obviously.

Dodie became the song in my head, the one you realize when it’s too late and you’ve been subconsciously at it and now conscious of it, heated and irritated to the point of obsession.

Whistle. Obsession.

He whistled. Habit.

The way whistle looks like thistle and is seen as such in the realm of sounds. Sharp. Quick and usually you want to use your foot to blot out its life, with haste. One mouth pucker and my eyebrows are erect. One tick on my counter from the man with a mustache. And she never mentioned the dwarves, whom I’m sure she’d have many a small penis joke lined up, buried waiting like a jack-in-the-box spring trap. Gasp. Oh ha ha. They do whistle. That’s seven instances left untouched, dripping with potential, right along with the use of the word “ho”. Or how they mine for diamonds and immaculately cut precious stones which they leave (where?) and come home to live in hospitable squalor, none of them daring to build another house. And I’m back to the whistling.

Tick two.

The word most associated with Dodie was uncomfortable, which I did not gain from the reading. If anything, Dodie forced me to reflect on myself, pulling me into my childhood days of Snow White being innocent and talented. She was the woodland creature whispering goddess. The scariest part being the lightning storm instead of the obsessed red mouthed queen asking for Snow White’s heart. (My Creative Writing senses tell me to delve a little deeper into the metaphor for some complexes, but really, I just think she wanted her dead.) Moving from essay to narrative, I still was compelled to feel for the characters meaning I connected with her fear and want of the boy on the far bed. What does that mean! My inner child panics. What happened in my life that I now can relate to Dodie? She is hilariously crude in her sentiments. Have I become like that? More personal reflection and it’s only been an hour. Focus on the peaches and try to remember to make a cobbler when you get the chance. Desserts, yes! Movies, innocent movies! Don’t think! Just watch! Sit, watch, cut up peaches on your couch! The uncomfortable self is found in Dodie’s aftermath.

Emily Riopelle reviews Dodie Bellamy

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.