Review | Jehanne Dubrow’s Dots & Dashes

by Cecilia Savala

In Dots & Dashes, Winner of the 2016 Crab Orchard Review Series in Poetry Open

Competition Award, Jehanne Dubrow speaks to other military families in the voice of academia and to academics in the voice of a Navy wife. Her poems, written in strict form like military rules, mirror the posture of a soldier, the minute by minute cadence and drill of bootcamp, and the hard, unwavering facade that’s worn on duty. Through rhyme and repetition, Dubrow also draws attention to some of the structure enforced on members of the military and their respective families.

Dubrow’s masterful command of language is such that her specific topic appeals to a
wider audience, and her narratives are both surprising and grounding. Her context transforms her reader into a powerful participant, and her descriptions play off the structure that she makes
seem effortless.

In “The Alarm,” the contrast of an ocean’s weight to the undesirable sound of a phone’s alarm is so present, it’s almost tangible. Dubrow’s details and sensory anchors draw the reader in to feel the cold metal pins under his or her fingers in “A Row of Ribbons” and to flinch involuntarily as the camera snaps in “Cadets Read ‘Howl.’”

“The Signal Flag” compares the world’s dangers to the uncertainties that sometimes

comes with communicating within a marriage; it wonders, “If only marriage came equipped with signs / as manifest.” The speaker’s juxtaposition of a Navy Ship with a relationship illustrates the clear roles that are enacted in the military and the difficulty with saying the wrong thing when there are no such rules.

Dubrow writes from a unique perspective. In a time in which we are hesitant, if not

outright opposed, to being defined by our relationships, careers, and surroundings, she puts her verses to work describing for us, the world of a military wife from the inside out. She tells us not only of ships and flags and of medals and uniforms, but she also gives a humanity to all those symbols by allowing her readers to step into the shoes of a woman, untouched for too long, “as even breath might / break it” in “[Lament for this Long Celibacy]. She blurs time for us in “Much Tattooed Sailor Aboard USS New Jersey,” “let’s not forget this picture / must be posed, the men interrupted—,“ and in “[If You Are Squeamish],” she gives a warning. There are things you may not really want to know, as “It’s best to leave / some shells unlistened, some / shards of jaded glass unseen.”

 

Dick Davis, author of At Home, and Far from Home: Poems on Iran and Persian
Culture, writes, of Dots & Dashes, “the book can be read as one long, lyrical, involved, and self- aware love poem… A wonderful read!” Dubrow opens herself and her marriage, giving voice to a paradigm, her position in relation to her husband, the military, other Navy wives, and her country. She has given us an intimate account that is, at times, frightening and even indelicate.

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