Review of ‘Faint’ by Lucy Dixcart

Lucy Dixcart’s impressive debut pamphlet, Faint, covers a range of issues such as motherhood, student life, identity and unrequited love. However what intrigued me most was the originality and the force with which she conveyed her insights into gender power relationships

In the fine poem, Ballroom Dancing for Introverts, these relationships between men and women are aptly symbolised through a ballroom dance. The man leads, he is given control: ‘he steers’ her. Her role is to do as she is told: ‘As commanded, I recline my head in rapture’. There is nothing innate or natural about these roles: they are roles they have been ‘cast’, yet the role for the woman is a distinctly inferior one. She is merely ‘dressing’ and ornament, whilst the male’s role is conveyed through the beautifully apt and inventive image, ‘a wrangler of women’, which conjures up associations of male vitality and control. Significantly this image conflicts with the characteristics demonstrated by the callow youth who partners her, ‘the flushed student’ with the sweaty hands. He appears as uncomfortable with this role as his female partner, who is driven ‘backwards’ in the dance.  This is not a fulfilling experience for either the male or female, yet there is only the faintest sign of resistance. The woman slides her ‘feet from his path’, she does not accept the situation: she does her best to avoid it, but there is no decisive or radical action taken, no matter how awkward she finds the experience.

In An Angel Beguiled, Dixcart’s poem about the relationship between Dorothea and Casaubon from Middlemarch, the same theme is explored.The poem is written from the point of view of Dorothea. She believes the way to a man’s heart is through submission to his will:  ‘trinkets rejected, plainly clothed/I please him with my submission’. This is her choice, though it is Casaubon’s expectation too: ‘Promise me, he says. Obey my will./Make a blank check of your soul.  Though the role she adopts is apparently passive, an act of ‘surrender’, it is one that requires will and conscious effort, as suggested in the final word of the poem, ‘serve’. As in Ballroom Dancing for Introverts the relationship based on such roles proves unfulfilling and in this case destructive: ‘When I give myself to this man/our future hardens’ and at the end of the poem she finds him slumped over the table and ‘there is nothing left of him’.

Many of the men in Dixcart’s poems are portrayed as insensitive and predatory. The editor in Rules of Romance has ‘shark eyes’ and cannot be bothered to remember the name of the woman who serves him his daily coffee.  Dixcart’s men bully and demean women. In The Man in a Suit Swooped Down we find a boss who has no time for the female employee in the poem. He judges her ‘too young, too female’. He intimidates her to the extent that she becomes a shadow of herself in his presence: ‘a wheezing silhouette’ and he makes her into something that she does not want to be: ‘He seized my lines, scrawled his own design/ – so small, so overrated’. He sets the tone in the office: the other men follow his lead: ‘the younger men bounded after him’. They determine the culture of the office.

She, like the other women in the pamphlet, is forced into behaviours reluctantly. In the brilliantly surreal Princess Alexandra and the Glass Piano, Dixcart describes the ‘rules to live by’. These rules are similar to those in The Man in a Suit Swooped Down, women mustglide like moonlight, your movement unperceived’, ‘If interior music sounds, stand still for hours/ taking   very   small   breaths’. They must not draw attention to themselves. If they do there will be ‘No prince for’ them. That is the cost of breaking the rules. Furthermore, in Faint we meet a Victorian woman reluctantly wearing a corset to produce an 18 inch waist. The effect is that her ‘hull creaks and cracks; until my innards do-si-do’. Although there’s a touch of humour here, the point is a serious one. This is another form of subjugation. The woman feels she has ‘dwindled’. Her response is to ‘faint’. Interestingly Dixcart presents fainting not as a symbol of defeat but as one of resistance. She speaks to her ‘future sisters’ and asks them ‘where will you go/to loosen your laces, gorge yourself on air?’ Her fainting provides respite and freedom. She challenges women of the future to find their own forms of rebellion and many of Dixcart’s women do in small acts of defiance. We find one taking satisfaction in an employer’s arrest; another takes ‘virgin manuscripts’ home to sift  ‘for diamonds’ that the male editors haven’t found; another bides her time at work until she can ‘return’.

There is much to engage with in Lucy Dixcart’s Faint and much more than I have space here to explore. There is no doubt she is a talented writer with a unique take on her subjects. I look forward to reading a full collection of her work in the future.

Lucy Dixcart lives in rural Kent with her family. Her poems have appeared in a number of journals including Acumen, Lighthouse, Fenland Poetry Journal, Riggwelter and Ink Sweat & Tears. Her poem, Tortoise, won first place in the 2020 Lord Whisky Sanctuary Poetry Competition and her debut pamphlet, Faint, was published last year by Wild Pressed Books. She has an English Literature degree from the University of Oxford and an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. To purchase a copy of Faint click here.

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