Gabriel Don_by_Wednesday Kim

A Review of Gabriel Don’s Living Without Skin

If you don’t know where to start from, you can start from music. A song has no flesh other than your body: wind, a bird’s mind, an ocean’s, glasses, forest, leaves, logs, metals, voids, spirals, the cochlea, receivers, hair cells, motion, sooner or later, right and left.  

Examples: ‘Ordinary love’ by Sade Adu. ‘River’ by the French-Cuban duo, Ibeyi. ‘Deathless’ by Ibeyi again. ‘Iba’ by Aṣa. Or even King Sunny Ade’s ‘Ori mi’. We go on and on. 

  1. I start reading Gabriel Don, her first poetry book. 
  2. There are three things on the front cover: colour, lines, words. 
  3. Three more things on the front cover: the sky, the poet, the infinite. 
  4. Three more things on the front cover: the ocean, the universe, waves.
  5. Three more things on the front cover: living, without, skin. 

See the borderline: what is inside, what is outside. Check the time: the shortest day, the longest day, and then there are days we don’t know. I see Gabriel Don’s book cover as a fundamental interaction, as in physics: gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear, strong nuclear. 

Living Without Skin is a manifestation of forces of nature, of life, and Gabriel Don has taken a timeless medium to lay them out. It is no wonder the first poem begins on a fearless note, on a fluid and unapologetic scale: “He was a milksop,” she says. Gabriel says it audibly, emphatically but smoothly. This poem is titled ‘To Audre Lorde (The Erotic as Power)’. 

It is difficult to take just a quote or cull out a passage from Audre Lorde’s seminal essay, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. No line should be left out. It must be digested as a whole. I will try and cull a few lines of Audre to show you something about Gabriel Don’s vision and poetry: 

  1. “The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.”
  2. “Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deeper rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.”
  3. “For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand form ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. 
  4. In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.”

In Living Without Skin there are untitled poems one to twenty-seven. There are poems titled after days, dates in April, May, June, July, August, September and October. There are pictures. And as a multimedia artist herself, Gabriel is keen on distorting and expanding definitions of poetry, meanings of success and peace by:  skillfully splitting typography, disjointing details, aphorisms.  

There is a lot to be missed in reading Gabriel. And it is not that they are absent or hidden, but that you might be in a hurry to find out what the poet is trying to mean. But do not let explicit or inexplicit meanings wear you out; look again. 

“Everyone worships the moon,” the poet says. Old moon, new moon, bright buds, we stare in admiration. Wonders are vocalized. A lesson is learnt or abandoned. 

“I never understood giving flowers. Now I see they are a reminder of magic for a person in need. Sometimes we need to see that the world sparkles.”

More poems: ‘Spring Clean,’ ‘candy in my fingertips,’ ‘Letters to Heartbreak,’ ‘The Biggest Flop,’ ‘The Alchemist,’ ‘Nobody Wins,’ ‘Fuck the G Train,’ ‘Boroughist,’ ‘J Train,’ ‘I Remember,’ ‘Swimming Lessons,’ ‘Two Sides,’ ‘Her legs are open, like 7-Eleven,’ ‘What do I want,’ ‘A Woman’s Place,’ ‘Dubai Nights,’ ‘Untitled Poem 24,’ ‘Feminine is Free,’ ‘Aphorisms’.

Living Without Skin is a passage, and Gabriel as an enchanter is here to lead sessions of psychic kicks. She announces: “You can change your hat but your head will remain.” She is denying the reader, the listener all chances of impossibilities. Let the psyche be turned on. “My body curves in on itself self-consciously.” The climax in reading Gabriel is in fathoming that poetry is an enactment of freedom, of life and living. Herein lies the abundance:

“I do not have enough hands to count my blessings”


Copies of Living Without Skin can be ordered here, and in Australia here. And for future readings and events, follow Gabriel Don on Facebook.