TEXT review

Singing the spirit child: Dominique Hecq’s Hush: A Fugue

review by Rose Lucas


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Dominque Hecq
Hush: A Fugue
UWA Publishing, Crawley WA 2017
ISBN 9781742589473
Pb 69pp AUD22.99


Hush: A Fugue is Dominique Hecq’s sixth book of poetry. Her poetry – like her other creative and scholarly work – is informed by the wealth of her personal and intellectual experience, reflecting issues of physical and linguistic dislocation as well as the influence of a psychoanalytic and post-structural literature on loss, grief and subjectivity. This collection clusters explicitly around the theme of loss; in particular, it retraces a very personal narrative of the loss of a child to cot death. Years may have passed, other children arrived and grown – but the shocking ‘white wax’ of the beloved baby’s face remains a potent presence in his mother’s life. Almost twenty-five years later, this powerful and disturbing collection both marks the enduring presence of the lost child and traces the almost unbearable experiences of grief and mourning, finally possible to articulate within the flexibility of the poetic voice.

Hecq’s title encapsulates the collection’s central themes. The notion of the fugue is of course multivalent. On one level, it evokes the notion of extreme emotional alienation. To be in a fugue state is to be out of step with what we think of as the ‘normal’ world of verifiable reality, to be in an almost nightmare state, no longer willing to be fully in the world, longing for food but unable to offer it or to take it in. In a Lacanian sense, this self has come adrift from the ‘name’ which linked her to the world:

The Mother, for lack of a proper name, formerly myself…She felt as though she had forgotten what it was like to lift her tongue, what it was like to lick her lips unstuck…Out of reach of her body. Her memory, cut loose. This, she thought, is what it feels like to be dead. (20)

On the other hand, a fugue can also be something that is made, a shape in which the artist can ‘compose’ the various threads of experience. Rather than those threads pulling against one another, leaving a chaos of abrasive discord, the fugue – through the labour of art – strives to bring them into a version of accord. In the musical form of the fugue, a central theme is sounded and repeated at different pitch, in different ways: it threads through the diversity of other notes, other experiences; it finds a way to hold change and continuity within a structure that acknowledges and therefore soothes.

‘Eurydice. Eurydice. Eurydice.’ Orpheus’ words are themselves threaded through Hecq’s own; they are the words of the poet whose art strives to call back the beloved from the other-world of death, almost able to create something so beautiful that the laws of the universe might roll back and allow the dead to return into our arms. By explicitly citing, indeed channelling the mythic poet Orpheus in his lament for his lost wife, Hecq acknowledges the immense possibilities as well as the limitations of art; her poetry offers the reader a fugue, so powerful and moving, we might just see the ghostly presence of the dead in the wings, shadowing us - memorialised, yet inevitably lost all over again.

In this collection, Hecq pushes at the structures and expectations of poetic language, creating a collage of varying techniques and voices. Some small sections are more conventionally lyrical, such as this bridging piece which stands alone, comfortless, on the whiteness of the page:

The priest’s words
   rise into the air

The ground drops
   under my feet (19)

Other sections utilise a prose poetic which works to externalise a difficult emotional world into the chronology of narrative, thereby telling the story in a more conversational, apparently less self-conscious voice:

Ours wasn’t such a bad marriage. But it always felt as if someone had stolen my paintbox, leaving behind grey harmonies… And so, instead of wiping clean the smudge under the guttering of the suburbs, I dabbed at it again and again. (38)

In another section, again trying to come to grips with the implications, the ‘why’ of ‘white’ – the dead baby’s face, the persistence of grief, the leaching of colour, the empty page – Hecq makes use of a concrete poetic in an attempt to break open the possibilities of every line, every word, every letter to speak her pain:

Why is white white?

An orchestra
            in a guitar
colour cascades
                        e              (16)

The plasticity of the poetic form become a way for Hecq to trouble the surface of expectations and to signal the conflicting elements of her experience. In this way, the collection forges a third space – a labour of art to accommodate the rough seam between a conflicted interiority and the external world and its stark requirements.

‘Hush’ say these poems. It is a mother’s soothing word to her child – to the child who is lost yet still needs the envelope of her care, as well as to the other children, who, like her, must learn to negotiate the jagged hole left by death. ‘Hush’ is also reminiscent of the words offered to the poet herself, when, as grieving mother, comfort can often seem to ask us to put grief behind rather than finding ways to take it forward. In many ways, Hecq’s poems break the silencing requirement of ‘hush’; they take the reader on a harrowing journey through the persistence of grief and the exhausting work of mourning. However, in other ways, having spoken, having broken the taboo by continuing to articulate and explore the pain of loss, the poems are now able to offer another form of soothing that comes with an acceptance rather than a repression of such difficult emotional material. The fabric of this art reflects the diverse, often angular threads of life experience. More than just a mirror of course, the art of Hecq’s poetic has the capacity to make another pattern from them, to shape them into a fugue which identifies the recurring and persistent themes, finding a way to blend them into the richness of the composition, the cathartic relief of its capacity to sound and to integrate darkness and light, despair and possibility.

Loss is forever: Hush.



Rose Lucas is Senior Lecturer in the Graduate Research Centre, Victoria University. She is also a poet; her most recent collection Unexpected Clearing was published by UWA Publishing in 2016. Her next collection is The Point of Seeing.


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Vol 21 No 2 October 2017
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy, Enza Gandolfo & Julienne van Loon
Reviews editor: Linda Weste