Book review: Dress Rehearsals, Madison Godfrey

An electric and poetic manifesto of selfhood.

Madison Godfrey’s Dress Rehearsals is filled with hunger. Each page widens with possibility; hands reach, mouths slacken with desire. It is a rich collation of years of work. Dress Rehearsals is Godfrey’s second collection, coming five years after their masterful debut, How To Be Held (Burning Eye Books, 2018).

Dress Rehearsals is a triptych: three sections open out to reveal a collection primarily composed of prose poetry. Experimental and hybrid in form, Godfrey’s work is rich and sensual, offering a glimpse into the poet’s innermost experiences. Both emotionally and textually, these cuts and contrasts create a performance: with each turn of the page, a new scene is set and a fresh outpouring of carefully controlled lyricism.

In Part One, Godfrey examines memories and juxtapositions; the complexities of adolescence and early adulthood are handled adroitly. ‘I am not a thin / line, a perfectly placed axis,’ Godfrey declares, in a dynamic rejection of cishet expectations. In tracing their experience beyond the strictures of societal constraints, Godfrey firmly maps their vision of non-binary existence and survival.

Part Two, subtitled ‘The Femme Fatale Goes Home’, comprises a sequence of works dedicated to this muse. Reversing their positionality in Part One, in Part Two Godfrey places themself within their poetry as the observing eye; they watch on as the femme fatale appears, undresses, teaches them how to take a nude. ‘I come home and catch the femme fatale tracing a wing where her eyelid once was,’ Godfrey writes, exposing the ways in which we can be made – and unmade – by the othering gaze.

Part Three is an exploration of Godfrey’s present thoughts and experiences – a testament to growing into their self. They write that their ‘gender answers to no body’ – the space held between those last two words is dexterous, a masterful internal line break. Joy abuts with pain. In ‘When Does Your Body Feel Like It Belongs To You?’ Godfrey writes about ‘too porous’ hunger and the ways in which queer bodies dance, ‘reaching for tea. Rushing for hands’. This reaching for the future – unsettled in its chronology by the temporalities of queer time – is the thread that runs through the entirety of Dress Rehearsals.

Writing the radical potentiality of the trans gaze upon the trans body is Godfrey’s forte within Dress Rehearsals. Rebellious and challenging, the energy and force of their vision is hauntingly gorgeous. Within the course of the collection, Godfrey’s body is reclaimed, bruised and ‘heat-mapped like a suburb’. They sob, bleed and hunger in a visceral evocation of what it means to live a queer life.

A currency of cultural references runs through Dress Rehearsals like a bloodstream. Dressed in seemingly-immaculate white trousers, Harry Styles lounges next to references to Christina Aguilera and Richard Siken. Mitski’s 2013 album, Retired From Sad, New Career in Business, is imaginatively reworked by Godfrey into the title of one of their poems, ‘Retired From Slutdom, New Career In Gingham’. Reading Godfrey’s work and noting these references – some reflectively serious, others sly half-jokes – is a game of recognition, a dynamic mosaic of reflections caught in a collective bathroom mirror.

Read: Book review: Once a Stranger, Zoya Patel

Dress Rehearsals is an exploration of desire: a documentation of both pain and pleasure. The collection is an ode to trans joy and an embodiment of gender euphoria. Godfrey sets forth a poetic manifesto of selfhood: fiercely punk and undeniably powerful.

Dress Rehearsals, Madison Godfrey
Publisher: Joan Press (Allen & Unwin)
ISBN: 9781761068577
Pages: 128pp
Publication Date: 28 February 2023
RRP: $24.99

Ellie Fisher is an emerging poet, reviewer, and lyric essayist. She holds First Class Honours in Creative Writing from The University of Western Australia. Ellie's creative work has appeared in Westerly Magazine, Swim Meet Mag, Aniko Magazine, Gems Zine, and Pulch Mag, amongst others.