Simone White’s Of Being Dispersed: A Review

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I maintain dominion over the crevices of myself, deep into the layers
of my skin, which must never be questioned. Never doubt that these
crevices extend toward an infinitely receding boundary. Come close
to me to feel it.

The last time I encountered Simone White was in the summer 2016 issue of BOMB magazine, in an interview with Vince Staples. In it, White notes a “family feeling” to Staples’s music that evokes a sense of knowing him. I had this same feeling while reading White’s latest text, Of Being Dispersed. It’s work that makes room for empathy between artist and reader, a reminder that we walk the same ground, take the same trains, roll our eyes at the same ads on them.

Of Being Dispersed begins with a portrait of Los Angeles as a place “where dead negroes can’t get in your house.” Followed by a break, then alone on the next line: “Yeah.” White shows without telling, making the reader reexamine their own positionality and assumptions.

This approach returns in “Lotion,” the volume’s closing essay, which explores the social context of White’s beauty regimen with equal parts exhaustion and dignified ownership. It’s the sheer power of her voice that holds this disparate formal universe together. One still hears the poet who reminds herself that it “looks bad to yell at a white man in public, even if he pushed you out of the way” in the preceding poems. In “Lotion,” that same poet who assures the woman who mistook her ironed hair for something burning that nothing was on fire. These are scenes of subtle confrontation embedded in flippant reassurance, evidence of White’s negotiation of complex affects.

While the book is set in an intellectual and embodied universe that is decidedly White’s own, we as outsiders feel ineluctably drawn into its orbit. A layered consciousness shines in a consistent and textured tone engaging the different parts of her mind: sometimes as entire poems, but often within the same poem, even the same line.

White’s words reflect worlds she has seen. They extend access to her mind, her analysis of herself and her surroundings, so that the reader gets as close to her as they can while remaining self-reflexive. I experienced Of Being Dispersed as a mirror that made me consider the consequences of my own body as a container—what it means to exist in the world, in America, as my physical self, but also as a spirit within it.