TEXT review

A cloud into the rainbow

review by Vivienne Plumb


Dominique Hecq
Stretchmarks of Sun
re.press, Melbourne 2014
ISBN 9780980819786
Pb 98pp AUD20.00


Dominique Hecq is an award-winning Belgian-born poet, fiction writer, playwright and academic based in Melbourne. With Stretchmarks of Sun Hecq has produced a provocative ninety-eight-page poetry text that is effective and entirely challenging. The fragments draw on the experience of the female voice of the piece, focusing on her dislocation and, eventually, reconnection.

The back cover blurb presents the work as being ‘informed by the crossing of borders – geographical, historical, formal and subjective.’ Indeed, the geographical space of this poetry involves re-inscription with the narrative heart of the work relating the story of a life that has suddenly fallen between words. Hecq’s autofictional fragments are successful in moving the usual boundary lines and the result is a manuscript that offers a high degree of risk in the writing.

Early on, the protagonist describes herself as ‘[s]he who had no name’ (14) who eventually ‘felt the urge to speak’ (16). Soon she states she is ‘here for all herternity’ (33), but by the third segment of the poem we discover she has entered a ‘twylight’ world where she feels she is ‘back in the womb’ (33), and ‘already in the tomb’ (33). We learn she is the survivor of a tragedy ‘beyond decline, destruction and ignorance’ (32), now admitted into hospital where she feels as if she is being punished by a God whose voice is adrift and who has previously instructed her to self harm.

This ‘unsouled’ twylight is not as dark as we may imagine; instead the author of the text finds herself ‘drowned in liquid light’ (33), ‘buried under a yellow lustre of light’ (33), and fears she may sink in the incandescence of ‘this broken water aglow’ (35). Light is constantly mentioned, although rather than being open and illuminating, it is overpowering, suffocating. She has created a new world with her own words but now she fears she is to be punished as she attempts to question her relationship to God and the divine power. She has become ‘slick with sweat’ (36), her tongue is numb, and she is ‘flooded’ with a light (32) that is harsh and erasing.

In the hospital ward the protagonist’s body is prodded and poked, and while she is interrogated by a male moustache (a doctor on the ward) as to her identity she finds herself holding on to just one thing – although barely unable to answer, she knows it is important to ‘hang on to the word word’ (42). For this woman words are of the greatest importance: ‘Give me a pen for God’s sake’ she states (39). She is a little like the female character in Samuel Beckett’s short stage piece, ‘Not I’, who has remained mute until the day she suddenly experiences an epiphany in the middle of a field, and the words begin to gush from her mouth.

The woman of Hecq’s poem is finally deemed ready for discharge, although entry back into the outside world is compared to ‘a moon on the wane’ (52) or ‘an afterglow of madness’ (52).

Sections of the autofictional fragments often begin with or alternatively contain a variety of (paratextual) quotes from the work of writers such as Emily Dickinson, Paul Celan, Patti Smith and Arthur Rimbaud. These epigraphs enhance the composition and hold strong currency within the narrative, acting as intertextual building blocks in the construction of the narrative world and voice of each poem.

A number of these paratextual quotes are dream descriptions apparently authored by ‘Peau d’âme’ (the skin of the soul), but in fact attributed in the reference to ‘D.Hecq’. Peau d’âne or Donkeyskin is an instructive (French) fairy tale about the incestuous love of a widowed king for his daughter. He wishes to marry her and in an attempt to prevent this, the princess requests difficult gifts. These are all duly delivered, so she asks for the skin of the magic donkey kept in the king’s stables and when even that is presented, the princess makes the decision to disappear from her bad situation by disguising herself inside the donkey skin that renders her invisible, thus enacting a transformation and within this metamorphosis she is enabled to save herself. Such fairy stories, but also Hecq’s instructive text, stand as a reminder of the myth of security, especially certain kinds of ‘security’ that ‘protect’ women. Hecq’s autofictional refigurations of this sort of script resonate deeply: women must dare to take the risks that have been discouraged in the past and become capable of creating their own fate.

It is generally accepted that the parent, the older human, should naturally die before their child, therefore the earlier death of a child defines itself as unnatural. In the section entitled ‘Off the Edge of Love’, such an absence and the grief involved in such a situation is defined by Hecq. Even ten years later such a bereavement still results in ‘something oozing from under the surface’ (58), and Hecq is positive that:

the greatest pain
is the sheer business of surviving a child (62)

Hecq is not only concerned with survival, she discusses the passage of words within time and space, and the way the reassemblage of words can form new meaning. But Stretchmarks of Sun is also an examination and analysis of fragments of a life, and by the use of these fragments Hecq displays her predominant interest in celebrating poetry and word to relate the life that is given to the reader within these pages.

See how writing makes loss festive
turns a shadow into the sun
a cloud into the rainbow (69)




Vivienne Plumb is a poet, a fiction writer and a dramatist, and holds a DCA from the University of Wollongong. Born in Sydney, she is presently based in New Zealand, where she held the University of Canterbury writer-in-residence position during 2014. Her collection, The Glove Box and other stories, was published in 2014 by Spineless Wonders, Sydney.


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Vol 19 No 1 April 2015
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Enza Gandolfo & Linda Weste
Reviews Editor: Ross Watkins