When one undertakes a close reading of Shira Dentz’ fifth full-length book of poetry, the sun a blazing zero, published in 2019 by Dialogos Books and Lavender Ink, many questions emerge.
I was lucky to have an opportunity to attend Dentz’ reading via Zoom, through the auspices of BathHouse Reading and Event Series and the EMU Department of English.
During the reading, which Dentz shared with poet Kathryn Cowles, Dentz read three poems from her book. During the first poem, she employed sensory devices over zoom. Readings during COVID-19 are an unusual sort of animal, with the strong possibility of poetry’s impact dissolving over the micro-fiber optical transportation of text fading through technology and transmission. However, even with the sociability of writing diluted through contemporary presentation strategies, the poetic language, performed by the originator rang through.
I mentioned Dentz’s choice to add an additional sensory device: in true avant-garde fashion, Dentz grasped a sheet of paper and rumpled it in front of the computer camera as she read the opening poem of “Black Flowers” (p. 32) The sound of paper, deconstructed into percussion instrument, enhanced the opening lines of the poem.
“ My bubby a black pump marked with
creases an array of streets, now and then
overlapping. Her name changed, rounded
to Mary. A stew of scribbles. Her pumps,
stretched wide open, excited; black flowers.”from the poem Black Flowers
On the page, the first stanza is nearly crowded out by a graphic design elements, lines smooth and sloping intersecting with jagged peaks. The thin black lines might have been created by the hand of a very old woman, or a very young child. When my children were young, I respected their writing, and we (together) gave it a special name: “scribble-scrabble.” The image of lines on the page, and the sound of the paper being shuffled and animated by Dentz’s hands gave a perfect multi-sensory impression of “scribble-scrabble.”
What other readers/listeners made of the noise of “scribble-scrabble” over zoom technology is impossible to access without deeper inquiry. However, my inquiry and immediate appreciation of the sound as an aligning symbol, which pointed to the marks Dentz manufactured to accompany her poem seems to be an important chain of events in how the poetic can transcend the page and enter the body of the recipient.Permit me one more note about mark-making and its relation to lived-time: learning to make marks on the page is as foundational, as elemental, as all of the developmental steps of movement. When an infant, especially an infant about which you personally care, your own small child, or perhaps a child with a kinship relationship, attains steps of discovery and self-actuality, those milestones give the day a special marker of particularity. Rolling over, discovering the axial midline of the body is truly a skill to celebrate. For without discovery of the body’s axial mid-line, there will be no crawling, no sitting, no standing, no walking.
Therefore, scribble-scrabble is not a random choice for juxtaposition with the poem Black Flowers. Rather, it is an embodied choice. Whatever we called it, whatever our mothers or fathers responded when they saw it, whether we, as preschool writers were praised for it, or ridiculed for it, scribble-scrabble is the universal mark-making of aging. The infant ages into a toddler, and the mark-making is a beginning step of literary consciousness.