TEXT review

Incarnadine words and incarnate worlds

review by Helen Gildfind

Dominique Hecq
Out of Bounds
re.press, Prahan, 2009
ISBN 9780980544039
ISBN-ebook 9780980666533
Pb 85pp AUD20.00


Dominique Hecq is an award-winning, Belgian-born and Melbourne-based, poet, fiction writer, playwright and academic. Out of Bounds is her fourth book of poetry, and is made up of three extended poems: ‘The Gaze of Silence’, ‘Out of Bounds’ and ‘The Silence of the Gaze’. [note 1] The opening pages of Hecq’s collection acknowledge her poems’ references to specific works by Baudelaire, Woolf, Bach, Shakespeare, Nietzsche and Mahler. (Hecq’s other expertise lies in psychoanalysis and literary studies.) Hecq thus immediately signals that an intertextual reading of her work will allow readers to engage with her writing in a specific way, and perhaps in a way that most closely evokes her own imaginative universe. The following, however, offers a response to Hecq’s collection from the perspective of someone who is unfamiliar with these references.

What is most immediately striking in Out of Bounds is Hecq’s masterful display of poetic technique. ‘The Gaze of Silence’ and ‘The Silence of the Gaze’ bracket the collection. These two series of poems shift between the bold images of compelling riddle-like tercets (‘Griffon wings / A claw in the mouth / Scream page’) and short, dense prose poems. The prose poems see the mythical-psychological meet the social and bodily in an individual woman’s struggle to survive the ‘clutter of tongues’ that defines her experience of being a migrant, a woman, a mother and a spouse in a world ‘short of words’. Hecq’s sometimes terrifying scrambles of blunt statement and alliterative play powerfully evokes this clutter:

She wants to go. She wants to stay. As in bleiben blubbering blancheur des mots blackness of things blurring of boundaries bewitching soundaries in Babel instead of that blundering babbelchose to be – is a belle. She hangs on to the word word. (25)

The reader is immersed in the protagonist’s search for a home in words and (as) a home in a new world, Australia. We witness her attempt to ‘penfect’ herself with the gunshot stutters of a second language, where fluid and coherent words become broken into the single separate entities of word word word, ‘sounding, unsounding, resounding the world’.

Initially, the prose poems’ references to a mysterious woman of the mountains (and to someone – the reader? – called ‘you’) are obscure:

High up in the mountains she drops and falls in a mirror you call a lake. Her eyes are split and so is her face. Her skin is inside out. Burning. Freezing ... She is all shivers and sweat. Her voice booms in her chest. Her head. Husks. Her heartbeat is strong. Is weak. Is no more. (19)

This prose is preceded by the calm restraint of a beautiful tercet (‘Washed out Moon / Milk letters spilled / in mid air song’) which signals a maternal theme and whose contrast in tone painfully emphasises the prose passage’s evocation of the violent oscillation between life and death (being, and making, an other) that is childbirth, a trauma compounded for the woman by a ‘foreign tongue’ telling her that ‘she is not prepared’. The brutal images in these passages, the violent contrasts in tone and pace, and Hecq’s pounding of her readers with powerful verbs (the horror of a head that has become a ‘husk’; the horror of a head ‘husking’) and the breathlessness evoked by the breaking down of lines and sentences typify how Hecq’s poetic landscape – where things constantly split, burst, crack and splinter – seduces the reader to return again and again to enter and decipher the world she has so carefully wrought into, or from, words.

The paired structure of tercet and prose poem repeats in ‘The Gaze of Silence’ and ‘The Silence of the Gaze’, until the end of each series where the final should-be tercet explodes into a cacophony of words, scattering down the page. The symmetry within these two series, and the way they bracket the middle series of poems (‘Out of Bounds’) gives readers a means to track the woman’s evolution from wildness to wisdom, from reading to writing, from being in the gaze to being outside of it, from sounding spaces to fleshing spaces, from being short of words, to short of worlds.

‘Out of Bounds’, by contrast, has no dominating structure. This series attaches flesh and face and place to the mysterious hints of narrative in the first and final series: ‘She’ becomes ‘I’ (for we are now moving through an ‘I’land’) just as ‘He’ (whom we meet initially as a hawk-like man, or a phoenix) becomes ‘Charles’.  Hecq’s shift from the disciplined restraint of her framing works, into the formless free-fall of this middle series, sees her play with language in a new way. Flurries of a hybrid language burst onto the pages (‘Chante, alors, Viola! Sing, petit singe, petty sin!’) in a contest against SPEECH that speaks with the capitalised authority of POWER, a power that seems associated with men (and religion) who ‘sneer’ and ‘snarl’ and ‘snort’, men who abuse and must be fled from. She flees to Australia where the glamour of a new world turns into the bland reality of Tullamarine:

not the land, the lush island, the harsh inland I had fathomed in my thoughts, but a dull and wayward sea of concrete and concreted paddocks. Padded land ... a padlocked land. (45)

Again, language cascades and cavorts, giving birth to itself, and the sheer momentum of Hecq’s play with sound alone pulls readers into her world. Readers walk through the ‘veined’ city streets of Melbourne, witnessing the protagonist’s struggle to relate to her land, her spouse and her child, paralleled always by her struggle to master English (‘There are things I can’t name yet, but I’ll borrow your words, your rules, your pens’) and her wavering confidence at ever being able to do so (‘Half way through the sentence I sense a flew bumps ... I can now hear the thump of things unsaid’).

Out of Bounds, pulses with life. The beauty and brutality of its images, its meticulously considered formal structure and the complexity of Hecq’s concern with the relationship between language and being, beguiles readers to return to her poems – repeatedly – in order to piece together the complex and compelling jigsaw of one woman’s internal and external worlds, worlds which she seems to reconcile in her final realisation: ‘Certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.’ While the reader mines Hecq’s work trying to identify – like her protagonist – this single, solid ‘thing itself’, Hecq’s writing shows us that the power of language lies less in what words can say than in what worlds of experience their music can evoke.


1. ‘The Gaze of Silence’ (previously published by The SideWaLK Collective); ‘Out of Bounds’ (previously published in Meanjin, and winner of the 1998 Melbourne Fringe Festival Prize for Outstanding Writing and Spoken Word Performance), and ‘The Silence of the Gaze’ (previously published by Slope, online). return to text


Helen Gildfind has published poems, short stories, essays and book reviews in Island, Southerly, Westerly, Hecate, Antipodes, Idiom, Veranda, Voiceworks, TEXT, Traffic, antiTHESIS, Australian Women’s Book Review and Poetrix. She was the Emerging Writer in Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in Perth in 2009.


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Vol 15 No 1 April 2011
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Kevin Brophy