Dena Igusti’s Cut Woman (Game Over Books, 2020) is a searing collection of poetry that illustrates the splitting of selves portrayed through a splintering of the body as a result of violence. Igusti’s poems are starkly embodied as they interrogate our understanding of how violence permeates, how national and international wars can be read in the individual: “maybe this is why we name // every skin contact // a war” (“sacrifice (reprise) or trajectory”). Through this text, we see a passionate longing for the speaker’s voice and body to be brought back together, a reunion of selves that is representative of a transformation of grief into something burning with life.
Cut Woman traces the many iterations of violence rippling through the speaker’s life, beginning with the horrors of undergoing female genital mutilation, to the racism and terrorism inherent in xenophobia and Islamophobia. Detailing the Reformasi Dikorupsi movement of 2019 in Indonesia, which pushed for more protective laws and just treatment by the government and police force, Igusti’s poems force readers to question America’s response to other countries’ traumas, and how this response robs one of autonomy. At the same time, Igusti turns the gaze of the speaker to America, and how racial disparities are incessant and pervading: “the way you easily // call my people // terrorist // a threat // to your white purity // you had to cut // out” (“altar”). Igusti’s use of the image of “cutting” or “cutting out” throughout the collection speaks to the forced act of separation and, in turn, the immeasurable losses these poems seek to understand.
This collection weaves together the lasting effects of inheritance and familial trauma, as one generation informs the next: “i’m like my father / i leave half-carcasses // of me // everywhere i go” (“sacrifice (reprise) or trajectory”). Such violence shows up in encounters with lovers, encounters with the media, and encounters with the self. Cut Woman portrays a complicated relationship with other women in the speaker’s life, illustrating the ways in which post-colonialism systemically worms its way into communities. The women are at turns violent (they are the ones that facilitate the speaker’s female genital mutilation), and at other turns resilient and bolstering: “but the women before me // brought me // here // not because they died for me // but because they lived with me” (“altar”).
Throughout all of this is the ever-present inability to bridge seemingly disparate experiences through language, as if the “country I was never supposed to step foot in // gives me words // for what was never // supposed / to happen to me” (“altar”). One of the many powers of Cut Woman, then, is that it nonetheless achieves this as a collection of poetry: it puts language to experiences and truths that we as readers cannot turn away from.
At the beginning of a handful of poems are epigraphs of lyrics from different bands, mainly Indonesian groups and singers/songwriters of color, including Nidji, Ratu, Reza Artamevia, Jhene Aiko, and The Sunset Kings. Beyond effectively drawing in other voices to the speaker’s conversation, these nods to different musicians are indicative of the rhythm of Igusti’s poems and the ways in which they are meant to be spoken.
As described on their website, Dena Igusti is a queer Indonesian Muslim poet, playwright, and producer born and raised in Queens, New York, and the co-founder of Asian multidisciplinary arts collective UNCOMMON;YOU and multimedia platform Short Line Review. They are a 2018 NYC Youth Poet Laureate Ambassador and a 2017 Urban Word Federal Hall Fellow, along with many other honors. They have performed at The Brooklyn Museum, The Apollo Theater, the 2018 Teen Vogue Summit, and several venues internationally. Cut Woman is a powerful addition to their already impressive repertoire.
Hannah Soyer is a queer disabled writer born and living in the Midwest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cosmopolitan, About Place Journal, Evocations Review, The Rumpus, Entropy, Mikrokosmos Journal, Brain Mill Press, Disability Visibility Project, Rooted in Rights, Sinister Wisdom, and Peach Mag. She is the founder of This Body is Worthy, a project aimed at celebrating bodies outside of mainstream societal ideals, and Words of Reclamation, a space for disabled writers.