Books

Dust Sucker review: Jen Calleja weaves resonant strands together

Dust sucker, Jen Calleja's book-length poem, subverts literal meaning in an experimental form with mesmeric results

Dust Sucker cover

Dust Sucker is a sharp, book-length sequence poem by Jen Calleja. Published by Makina as a bilingual edition, this slim, mesmeric volume also includes a German translation of the poem by Carolina Schutti. And, like the recurring images of dust itself, “chalky white over everything”, language and translation are constantly at tension with Calleja’s clever subversion of literal meanings.

“The German word for Hoover is staubsauger, lit. dust sucker,” writes Calleja, situating the collection as one that journeys across not only observations of domestic details – “making coffee, drinking water at the sink” – but also their metaphors: what begins as a dust sucker transforms into a myriad of connected thoughts: a mouth hoovering pistachios, a network of mycelium. And what are named “trivial activities” quickly become expansive meditations on language, on infertility, on climate catastrophe. The lens is intimate, a feeling bolstered by the poem’s lack of capitalisation, and Calleja’s experiments with form are an invitation into the speaker’s self-examination. 

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“I am a sandcastle of a woman,” she writes, evoking the image of the speaker’s body in a liminal state: material but porous, solid but not without the threat of possible collapse. Reflections on embodiment and its complexity reappear throughout, and near the book’s end, Calleja weaves resonant strands, dust and body, together: “I brush down my shoulders and sleeves/shake my hair, sending out a fine cloud, like steam.”

Dust Sucker cover

Alycia Pirmohamed is a journalist and author

Dust Sucker by Jen Calleja, translated by Carolina Schutti, is out now (Makina, £8). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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