Lotte Dodion

Belgium

Lotte Dodion (1987) is a Belgian poet and performer. She is born in Sint-Truiden,known for its apple trees and wonderful blossems. She currently lives in Antwerp. 

 

Her poems are compelling and in-your-face, tangible yet rich with authentic angles of approach. Her performances are gentle fire-and-brimstone sermons. Dodion has won several national and international literary awards. Among other achievements she reached the finals of both the Belgian and the Dutch National Poetry Slam Championships. She toured the spoken word circuit for several years and is known for her spellbinding on stage reputation.

 

Her debut poetry collection Canon Fodderwas published in 2016 by the renowned Dutch publisher Atlas Contact Amsterdam and has since then been republished five times. A selection of her work is translated to French, Turkish and Arabic.

 

Dodion is the former CEO of the Peace Centre in Antwerp and currently works for VONK & Zonen, a young literary organization experimenting with new ways to ‘bring poetry to the people’.


Take-away ammunition 

Lotte Dodion’s Kanonnenvlees(Cannon Fodder): performances on paper

 

Lotte Dodion entered the literary scene in 2004 by winning the first prize in De Gouden Flits (The Golden Flash), a Flemish-Dutch poetry competition for writers aged six to twenty. Many poetry awards, multimedial collaborations and achievements in the poetry slam scene would follow. In the meantime, her poetry was published in literary journals and anthologies. It was not until 2016 that her first book of poems was published: Kanonnenvlees (Cannon Fodder)consists of poems on disillusionment, powerlessness, loneliness and pain. Still, not all hope is lost, if we go by the single-line opening poem. It says: ‘we need to talk’. The poem’s title is ‘Schietgebed’, which according to the dictionary of Dutch language means ‘a quick prayer spoken in distress’. The poem suggests that the ‘distress’ in which the lyrical I finds herself could be resolved if she were capable of sharing this ‘something’ with an addressee. It is the contact with the other that could potentially save the lyrical I from danger.

 

Dodion suggests that, sadly, establishing true contact is not easy nowadays, even though the desire for contact is considerable: ‘I want to finally look you in the eye / […]/ share a common wound / never closing faster’. But the eye contact that follows is insincere; it is merely a ‘canned grin’. The term ‘blik’ calls to mind our consumer society, in which we can surround ourselves with consumer goods of all kinds, yet still feel alone. At first glance, consumer goods might function as ‘ammunition’ against loneliness, but they only serve to isolate us. Thus, we retreat, ‘ at night we fall back […] / loaded/ with ammo from the cabinet / the hard stuff // every stuttered attempt to talk cut off’

 

Kanonnenvlees seems topropose an alternative to these failing types of ammunition. Where products fail, it is words that can enable contact. However, according to the title poem, it is not that simple after all. In ‘Kanonnenvlees’, words, just like people, are subjected to military, political, ideological and publicity directives. In that sense, they are victims or cannon fodder. The opening poem ‘Schietgebed’ evokes another, more militant explanation of the book’s title. Rather than words being the victims of shooting, they are the ammunition used for shooting. They are the bullets that can destroy rigid ways of thinking in order to re-enable contact. 

 

In order for words to be effective, they have to free themselves from the fixed connections with which they are encoded. Dodion appeals to the reader to combat these encryptions with a variety of personal interpretations. She encourages the reader to actively participate in the poems in several ways. First of all, the book’s straightforward style stimulates recital. Its simple imagery, recognisable phrases, sound and rhyme evoke a kind of rhythm that ought to be sung or recited, similar to nursery rhymes. What is more, Kanonnenvleesfeatures many lines of indirect speech, by which it seems that what is ‘black on white’ forms a mere sediment of what has been said. Whoever wishes to reconstruct exactly what was said needs to speak the poems aloud.

 

Secondly, Kanonnenvlees invites re-reading. Because its meanings shift and its comparisons fail to be conclusive, readers are invited to establish new connections each time. In a similar way, variations on existing expressions urge the reader to re-think their interpretations. A line such as ‘In big parades’, refers to a festive brass band as well as to gaudy display. The punctuation that is used also invites multiple readings. Kanonnenvleeslacks any kind of punctuation, which allows the reader to determine her own rhythm of breathing and to place different accents (with each reading). The book’s lay-out similarly allows for a variety of possibilities for interpretation and recital. In ‘The knife thrower’, stanzas are connected by enjambments, but radically separated by ‘(knife)’. The speaker apparently voluntarily offers herself up to rubbish and advertising, while the ‘knife’ is trying to destroy these institutions. The reader thus has at his disposal the scores of at least three different performances. In the first, he denies the existence of the knife; in the second, he speaks ‘knife’ aloud; and in the third, he interprets the knife-in-brackets as a stage direction, which makes a stabbing motion in between the stanzas.

 

Finally, Kanonnenvleesrelates personal and global problems. Families morph into nation states and vice versa, small pleasures are weapons of war, country fairs are freakshows, and tourists become criminals or refugees. Because family fights and personal insecurities are connected to wars and existential doubts, the reader is able to recognise his own struggle within these universal themes. This means that anyone can find ammunition in Kanonnenvlees. The second and last part of the book contains fourteen poems, which describe heartbreak in the shape of Christ’s fourteen Stations of the Cross. The series of poems casts the protagonist and everyone who recites the poems as the new Messiah. Kanonnenvlees, a new New Testament, thus preaches faith in interpersonal contact after the codes have been emptied of their meanings. The last series, which is preceded by a cover page with a cross, can also be interpreted as a quick prayer: the cross is the symbol that opens the prayer – or conversation.

 

While Dodion encourages the reader to engage in her poetry, not everyone will take up the invitation. Her straightforward style is sometimes mocked. Although the simple metaphors and forced rhyme make her poetry accessible, they tend to feel exaggerated in written form. Her shifting metaphors have been denounced by critics as ‘crippled comparisons’. However, these are judgements that confine Dodion’s poetry to ‘paper borders’, borders that she herself is not interested in. For those who are willing to free the poems from their paper, they can be read as take-away performances which keep alive the belief in the possibility of contact.

 

Author: Nele Janssens
Translator: Sophie van den Bergh

 

This text was published in longer form at De Reactor (22-02-2017), a Dutch-language online platform for literary criticism. www.dereactor.org