DUALITIES, BY JASON PHOEBE RUSCH
Jason Phoebe Rusch’s collection of poems, Dualities, is a must-read from a new voice within the poetry community. His debut portrays relationships as deeply human and never leaves a character’s complexity undeveloped. While some poems grapple explicitly with gender and sexuality, the thematic range in his collection spans further. He explores gender, sexuality and the patriarchy through the perspective of a transgender writer. "I don’t feel like a man or a woman," Rusch writes, "so much as a Janus-faced alien.” Provocative lines like this one scatter his pages. In “Trans Gnostics,” Rusch proclaims “you will hide / our gospel and write / the TV story…” His work is not interested in the palatable TV version of trans livelihood; rather, it is more invested in showing the facets that TV has refused to record or recognize.
The collection builds a world in which moments as ordinary as pushing a golf-cart become critical insights and the insights reached are often a surprise. Rusch's lines create a lasting impression that leaves us feeling as if we're eavesdropping on a private conversation: “I’d like to be the mythical woman who dreams only / of being made love to on a beach, details obscured.” The raw energy of his poems and his vast exploration of the human experience connects readers to Rusch and his characters, both in their beauty and their mishaps. His rigorous honesty, which creates a vacuum of relatability and inevitably, reminds us of the power of radical acceptance: “I can only be my own permission.” His speaker’s self-examination spans widely, questioning biases, lived experiences and moments in which he has “outsourced the blame for the blank space that’s mine to fill.” No character is perfect: “often we are both victim and perpetrator…” Dualities never veers into one-sided arguments or criticism, but instead creates a complex balance of questions and celebrations of difference.
Through Rusch's poems’ honesty and interiority, his readers gain an understanding of the speaker and characters and watch as the boundary between the interior and exterior world effaces itself in order to create a lasting impression. He demystifies the idea that there is a boundary between the personal and the political spheres that we inhabit. Ultimately, Rusch's Dualities illuminates how our relationship to the self, as well as those around us, reflects the greater political questions of our time.