Poetics a la Shira Dentz | The Sun a Blazing Zero |

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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.

Recap: 2nd Fall 2017 BathHouse Event featuring Joanna Ruocco

Thank you to all of those in attendance at our 2nd Fall 2017 BathHouse event featuring Joanna Ruocco and a special thank you to all of those who participated in the discussion following her reading.  Pictures from the event are posted below. Keep in mind that we are still accepting submissions for reviews.

Miranda Mellis: An Introduction by Aaron Smith

BathHouse reading series welcomed Miranda Mellis this fall, and Aaron Smith (a current graduate student) wrote a wonderful introduction to her reading. I thought I’d share it here!

“Today we welcome Miranda Mellis, a powerfully surreal mind & voice in a world that cannot slow down or re-trace its steps. Our cultures have carved a heavy path through time, have created & shaped what we imagine as history, and Mellis works intensely to decode our collective views of both history & time, past, present, future, and other realities. She asks a continuous array of questions that guide her readers & characters through fictional realities that further question what is happening to us & them as individuals, and question how we perceive ourselves & our world.

Lucia, the narrator of The Spokes, at one point offers a direct analysis of past & present: “We’ve been this kind of human […] for two hundred thousand years […] If we don’t know ourselves, how can we know the ancestors?” Our vision of history is blurry at best, and the ways in which our knowledge of the past is commonly obscured cause us to un-learn countless ways of living that have much to teach us about collaboration & communication. Mellis’s vivid imagery opens doors to the past & versions of the present that we might otherwise overlook forever. In a 2012 interview with Green Apple bookstore, she explains:   “our everyday lives are outrageously pressurized in ways that we become habituated to, that become invisible, and then rear up in all sorts of painful intensifications, symptoms  & so forth. Forms of magic – magical thinking, magical transformations, and magical actions – represent reachable, alternative forms of agency & knowledge in lieu of  political power for the disenfranchised, abandoned, and oppressed.”

In another 2012 interview with City Lights bookstore, she alternately describes fiction as “an organ for detecting what otherwise goes unregistered.” By utilizing these “alternative forms of agency,” Mellis is able to both openly ridicule & rigorously analyze “what otherwise goes unregistered” for many people: the ways in which our cultures & histories push themselves forward at maddening speeds, inevitably crash & collapse, then slowly repeat the long, determined climb back to some epic climax. In The Spokes, her narrator Lucia argues that “Sometimes the impossible is the missing ingredient.” This element of “the impossible” is what drives powerfully meaningful pieces of our own reality deeper into our minds when winding through the fantastic landscapes assembled by Mellis; over time her imagined landscapes begin to feel more familiar than our own.

I would like to close with a quote from The Revisionist; a paragraph that stands alone on pg. 63, and in many ways defines the sense of time that pours through all her parables:  “There were so many different kinds of time. There was time measured in objects & time measured in space. There was time enclosed by language […] There was the way a person measures the distance between what she once felt & the moment she realizes she no longer feels that way. There was also the void, for which time was conventionally the foil.”

Miranda Mellis teaches at Evergreen State College. She is the author of The Quarry, The Spokes, None of This Is Real, Materialisms, and The Revisionist, which was the subject of a 90-foot mural at Franklin Art Works in Minneapolis. Miranda is also a founding editor with The Encyclopedia Project, a hybrid publication that plays with the ideas of reference book, literary journal & arts catalogue, blending all into a hybrid series of cross-referenced hardcover volumes. Please welcome her to our small pocket of time & space.”

Taylor Cyr Reviews November 2012 Bathhouse Events

I’m sitting in the scratchy auditorium chair, flipping through my phone. I got here early because I hate crowds and I wanted to get a seat close to the end so I can make a quick get away once this is over. I know, I know -I’m a terrible person. These Bathhouse events are for the students. And as a creative writing minor, I should be interested. I should be attentive. But the fact is I just got done with a long day of class and the only thing I’m thinking about is how early do I need to go to bed to get up in the morning without wanting to shove a fork in my eye?

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Karen Thompson Reviews November 2012 Bathhouse Events

Day 1

On the first day of the Bathhouse readings we listened to Dimitri Anastasopoulos, Camille Roy, and Rachel Letvisky read from some of their past works as well as new pieces either recently published or currently being written. Having four creative writing classes this semester I’ve read pieces from every one of those writers.

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Bathhouse Past

Last Month On November 28th and 29th Emu Students and the extended community invited Dimitri Anastasopoulos, Camille Roy, and Rachel Levitsky to read at the Bathhouse event on campus. The EMU students have written reviews of the event and the blog is only too glad to share this with you.  The writers each read from either published works or work in progress. Dimitri read a short excerpt from Farm of Mute due to release soon by Mammoth Books. Camille read from a book of her poetry titled Sherwood Forest published by Future Poem. Rachel Levitsky read from her book, Neighbor, available from Ugly Duckling Presse.

Camille

Reading from Sherwood Forest

Rachel

Rachel reading from Neighbor

 On November the 29th each of the writers gave a short presentation or talk on work that concerned them. Dimitri has given the blog permission to re-post his essay about narrative and finance. Rachel conducted a short presentation on the Office of Recuperative Strategies, a way of intervening in the archive, among other things. Camille gave her opinions on community and what it means to be a part of one; as they may change in ways that are not aligned with the ways you are changing. After all the presentations, there was a Q&A session where the audience was invited to test more readily the various writers’ opinions.

Dimitri’s works are available below the cut.

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