Emari DiGiorgio’s Girl Torpedo (Agape, 2018) examines how women creatively intercept trauma and redirect it, torpedo-like, back at the culprits. Pain often instigates these poems, and the speakers manipulate suffering into the energy needed to combat, survive, mourn, and reflect upon other women across time and space. These poems investigate the personal in global, social, and mythological contexts to answer the collection’s burning question: where, in this contemporary moment, “does a girl torpedo strike/an old battleship?”
This collection interrogating power, pain, and control makes the reader consider how we “read” another’s pain. Can we read pain across gender, culture, age, and time? How does our pain connect and isolate us? What roles do language and media play in aestheticizing pain and what others do with pain? In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag considers how our framing of another’s pain reveals more about ourselves than the trauma. In response, she advocates approaching the pain of others with difficult reflection rather than pacifying sympathy: “To set aside the sympathy we extend to others beset by war and murderous politics for a reflection on how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering, and may—in ways we might prefer not to imagine— be linked to their suffering, as the wealth of some may imply the destitution of others, is a task for which the painful, stirring images supply only an initial spark.” Girl Torpedo, through its global and historic scope, situates the personal on this larger map. The collection especially interrogates the gaze of Western media and its role in monetizing suffering: For example, in “Toddler Pulled from Rubble in Aleppo,” it takes, “Two minutes,/twelve seconds to pluck the girl from stone:/a small trophy the men lift to camera.”
The question of how we approach and experience the pain of others is also formally enacted within the collection. Poems including “Un-naming A Thing,” “New Math,” and “More or Less American” can be read in multiple directions, and our ability to read “across” our experience depends on our willingness read and re-read, to accept that our initial understanding is limited, to suspect that our intuition leads us back to the self rather than deeper into the poem. These poems, each written in two-line stanzas organized into three columns, resemble a page of cells. In this collection about pain and power, the cell-like stanzas evoke the cells in Discipline and Punish, and like Foucault, DiGiorgio does not just want to free her subjects from physical pain but from the systems that create oppression.
The four sections of the book examine cultures surrounding personal sexual assault, parenthood, and global sexual inequality. The trauma resulting from intercourse alone shifts like a kaleidoscope of pain—rape, the loss of children, and the burden of children tumble into each other and reshape their shards with increasing horror. The body and mind are presented as the sites of infinite pain and love, and sometimes both at once, as in “The Infant Corpses at the Home For Young Girls,” which describes love as “pain from the beginning—that inexplicable spasm,/the first time you’re kicked from the inside.”
On the cover of the book, a woman’s diving body cuts a sharp diagonal across a cityscape. Like that body, the bodies in the book find ways to throw themselves against the grain of language and social constructs. In the “Little Black Dress,” the power of women’s clothing is not attraction but vengeance. In the poem, the dress’s wearer fantasizes about avenging the man who sexually assaults her not by spearing “a sabre through his ticker” but by making him eat the dress she was wearing:
Every day, he’ll eat
the same dress. Every day, he’ll taste me
and what he did to me. Every day, he’ll gag
on the tag, the small band of elastic. His one
meal because he wanted it so bad.
The assonance of the short “a”—“gag,” “tag,” “band,” “bad”—assaults the ear. The rhyme of “gag” and “tag” reworks the stereotypical “gag” of the blow job into the perpetrator gagging on the object he objectified. The poem takes the language of the assaulter and has him shove it back into his own mouth until he chokes on it.
Another poem that interrogates the culture and language of sexual assault is “Where Does the Rabbit Go When the Hounds are Loosed?” The poem, composed of questions, situates the speaker’s personal experiences with assault in the context of Monica Lewinsky-trial era America, and in doing so, engages in contemporary discussions about consent:
Where’s the scandal with his last name? Where did she go
down on him because she didn’t want to have sex?
Where am I not guilty of that, so guilty, I got good at it?
The poems in this collection depict a reality where “power” is taking assault in the mouth to discourage assault in the vagina. A reality where we’ve become desensitized to the pain that fills our news and our bodies. Girl Torpedo argues that when women cannot steer the ship then, as in “Beware, Beware,” they can recite “psalms that draw sailors to rocks” so that sirens can devour the “men gripping oarlocks.”
by Emari DiGiorgio
Agape Editions, 2018
Allison Pitinii Davis is the author of Line Study of a Motel Clerk (Baobab Press, 2017), a finalist for the Ohioana Book Award and the National Jewish Book Award’s Berru Award, and Poppy Seeds (Kent State University Press, 2013), winner of the Wick Poetry Chapbook Prize. She holds fellowships from Stanford University’s Wallace Stegner program, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Severinghaus Beck Fund for Study at Vilnius Yiddish Institute. She is a PhD student at The University of Tennessee.