Review of ‘Dirty. Mouth. Kiss.’ by Taylor Steele

Anatomy
Artist: Ashley Tenn:
Ashley Tenn is a doodler and watercolor painter who wasn’t really supposed to be either of those things. She earned her BFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at Emerson College in Boston and has been hiding out at a local book store ever since. Find more of her work at
IG: a10nn

This book is me saying

“fuck it, I’mma let the ugly out’

Because aint that shit beautiful

In its unrelenting need to be heard?

Aint I? – Taylor Steele

 

This final passage from the dedication page of Taylor Steele’s Dirty Mouth Kiss not only advances the thesis of the book but also puts the onus on the reader to confront the grill of each poem, to look at how the content and structure of the poems mutate, disfigure and reapply new faces, dance in hell/after death.

Taylor dares you to die, to coax or tickle or yank your demons out and blow their faces off with sawed off, close-range, messy precision.

In the poem Anatomy, Taylor names herself through disassembly, starting the poem with tangible, recognizable parts and then redefining the meaning of “parts of the body”, referring to her body as library then weapon then finally a unifying but fractured summation “When I first learned about my body/ I learned it in parts/Learned it in broken”.  The ability to deconstruct trauma and spit out a diagnosis of self is a repeating process in this collection.  In that way, it mimics or creates a therapy through the spilling of memory.  

Taylor shares specific accounts in the poem I Remember where she speaks about essentially being shaken down by a neighborhood friend: “and there was born my first ultimatum/she told me I had to give her my dollar/or she’d stop being my friend”. The encounter ends with a negotiation “…she was the one/who was always dirty/so I gave it to her. angrily. /she saw that I was angry and still smiled.”  What part of the body relents and which part silently screams ‘get out of here with that bullshit!!’?  

The repression of that burning, screaming voice is further described in Another Work Email Weeks Before My Last Day in the lines “boss man asks without asking for me to do a thing that is not actually my job/and my gut calls for the army, is never tired of the fight/but I am” Then I wonder if repression and relent are bad words or if they are just closed doors that eventually lead to an opening.  Can you heal yourself by sinking into yourself even if yourself is a misshapen, dangerous outcast to the world.?

Ode to Medusa focuses this question, forcefully removes all eyes that look with the intent of taming or forcing a black woman to conform to a specific way of being.   

“You gift me each snake’s name/They lick my fingers, wrap each one with their slit tongues. /A care my hands have never known.”

these lines display a christening, the imparting of love from one shunned image to another, a love that allows for the unleashing of an unashamed identity.

When I got to the end of this Dirty Mouth Kiss a litany of descriptors flooded my brain: this book is a liberation song/a love letter to all people figuring it out/be ok with any emotion you feel, say it, out loud/the people who have hurt you are characters you can control/Your body is yours, Your scars are yours, Your story is yours but also someone else’s and that is power/Taylor Steele is one of the most necessary writers I have encountered, she poured all of herself into this work that is  a balm and a cool breeze that makes you want to praise, lift up your hands and expose all of yourself to whoever, without caring. “Now all of my doors are open.” – Review by Kirwyn Sutherland

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