On “Ugly Music” by Diannely Antigua, Reviewed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Girl with a Pomegranate by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Ugly Music by Diannely Antigua
YesYes Books, 2019

Whenever I have taken a class or encountered work from the Medieval period, such as in a museum, there is often an accompanying explanation about the role of acoustics as a way of encouraging greater spiritual belief. The echo of voices, coupled with the sights and scents of Christian rituals, was meant to sensorially overwhelm devotees while also inspiring awe. A similar soundscape is present in Diannely Antigua’s debut collection, Ugly Music, a book pulsing with the energy of a bucking horse that never tires or concedes to its reader. Antigua carries her reader through a temple of the female body that is simultaneously under construction by the speaker and by the social constructs she navigates from teenagerhood into adulthood. At one point, the speaker seems to break, the response less of a lashing out than a way of returning the focus back to herself, her desires and decisions: “I don’t want to be told/ about the bitches inside me that want out/ and want the pleasure of watching my body/ do things without permission.” 

Spirituality has a strong presence in Ugly Music, both in a literal sense but also in the form of memory. The poem that the collection’s title appears in, “Diary Entry #1: Revisitation,” also synthesises Antigua’s interest in female autonomy and sexuality. The fact that the poem is located in the final section of Ugly Music gives the closing lines a ritualistic quality, in which the speaker’s words have shed their prophesizing edge and seem to speak across distant, to an audience or even a self that is yet to come: “You’ll go to the mountain,/ count to ten. You’ll fall on the world/ like an ugly music.” Whether in its most straightforward definition, like in the Birdge section of Ugly Music, or in its more everyday form as a form of observation and contemplation, prayer is shown to be a deeply private and individual act that occurs in various forms. The spirituality in Ugly Music, then, is one rooted in acknowledging change, with prayer a way of navigating the cycles of personal, familial, and cultural relationships that are always open to renegotiation.

It is the “Diary Entry” sequence of poems that are scattered throughout the collection which represent this broad spectrum of devotion most prominently, a devotion that revolves around the self without slipping into a form of self-worship. What prevents this from occurring is, in part, a sense of unreliability to the narrative. The self pieced together in these poems is created over time, at times in retrospect. If the poems were put in chronological order according to their fragment number, one finds they refuse a cause-and-effect approach to growth. There are, however, echoes of continuity between some of the individual pieces. A notable instance of this can be found in “Diary Entry #9: Undoing,” in which the speaker has “a weird anxiety attack at Wendy’s, my boobs/ swell like a baby’s diaper, like a Botticelli girl perhaps, because my birthday/ is a death-day for some: my best friend’s grandmother,/ Princess Diana, my dog.” Antigua picks up this duality of birth and death in the second-to-last poem, “Variations on a Theme,” as the speaker declares: “If I would’ve// known then how many Wednesdays/ it would take to die. If I would’ve// known all the Wednesdays/ I’d be given back.” 
There are numerous threads in Ugly Music that deserve to be examined and given space for contemplation, such as immigration and how one’s place within society is often determined by how said society perceives one’s culture. Mental health and sexuality are an equally important piece of personal identity, with Antigua bitingly commenting on it in “Suggested Sad Songs for Broken Hearts,” the speaker her orator: “I need to teach myself/ that not everything is about sex./ But I am at this desk to make money/ so I can pay my rent, so I can afford/ a room to have sex in.” Ugly Music is a coming together, a harmonization of individual parts that are independently cacophonous, or to use the speakers own wording “independently/ codependent.” The collection is not music in the sense that Antigua tames or wrangles the traumas and worries into submissiveness. Rather, its musicality is in a wholeness that resists the romanticization of lived experience, a voice that charms as it unapologetically pierces through layers of presumptuous padding.

Margaryta Golovchenko (she/her) is a settler-immigrant, poet, and critic from Tkaronto/Toronto, Canada. The author of two poetry chapbooks, her individual poems can be found in Menacing Hedge, Lon Con Magazine, Acta Victoriana,Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and others. She has written literary and exhibition reviews for publications including Canadian Art, Peripheral Review, Cornelia, Arc Poetry Magazine, The Puritan. She is an incoming student to the art history PhD program at the University of Oregon. Margaryta can be found on Twitter @Margaryta505.

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