BOA Editions, 2019. 112 pages.
Reviewed by Brian Clifton
About a third of the way into Jillian Weise’s latest book of poems, Cyborg Detective, one of her speakers asks, “And did you get it? That part you wanted.” In the context of its poem, “Variation on a Wedding,” the speaker is asking about an audition for a symphony, but the question itself resonates throughout the entire book. From beginning to end, Weise interrogates what parts we play for people and what parts we want people to play for us, especially the parts of abled or disabled. While Cyborg Detective rips into canonical poetry for the ways able-bodied writers have erased those with disabilities in their poems, it also reminds that those with disabilities are multifaceted and should not be confined to their disability. These two thoughts—the canon has erased disabled voices and writers with disabilities should be free to be other than disabled—are well-woven throughout the book’s five sections, often occurring within the same utterance. In this way, Cyborg Detective looks into the past as it pushes into the future. Moving deftly between engaging with canonical authors and broken engagements, between Torah and Tinder, Weise focuses on the many ways we see the parts and not the whole and the consequences thereof.
Cyborg Detective begins with “Poem Conveyed,” a poem that quickly asserts, “In the glut / of ghosts, it is hard to tell / who is speaking.” This assertion chimes with the question that ends “Variation on a Wedding.” While “Poem Conveyed” is talking about an otherworldly possession, it also opens up the ways “identity” haunts our interactions—are we assigning certain moods or intentions to an utterance based on someone’s identity (whether that is disabled, queer, black, female, etc.) or are we trying to disentangle the complicated ways a person can exist beyond those categories as an individual? What part do they want and what part are we giving them? This attention to ghosts makes apparent the ways the categories we belong to might overshadow ourselves as individuals. Later in “Poem Conveyed,” someone tells the speaker to read Alexander Pope “because he was disabled”—presumably, given disability is at the forefront of s