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


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.

Review of Janet Kauffman’s, Eco-dementia and Joanna Ruocco’s Fiction Reading

By: Maria Kornacki

The main takeaway I got from Janet Kauffman’s Eco Dementia reading was the power of bringing people and environments together through writing.  Not only through writing, but through visual media to help make connections to our world. Janet Kauffman began her reading performance with defining her own term “Eco-Dementia” as being the “condition of humanity; a love of the living world while causing hurt and suffering its destruction”.

If I hadn’t gone to this reading or been a part of the creative writing community, I probably would not have gained insight from her thoughts about the environment.  The ability to share my personal view about society and the world is a writer’s gift, which has helped shape me into a better writer.  I have been gradually getting better at sharing my inner thoughts with others instead of just writing them down or not writing anything at all.  Her presentation was successful in fostering a sense of community and shared endeavor because we are all capable of learning from our surroundings through our senses.  Learning through observing, feeling, smelling, hearing, and even tasting allows us to make connections to the world around us.  Janet Kauffman explained the environment she lived in that was sort of a carley for how Eco-Dementia came about.

Kauffman is surrounded by land and described the importance to protect farmlands and wetlands in Michigan.  Kauffman’s environment placed prominence on connecting to the sense and physical world.  I thought it was a key note when she said she dislikes it when her poetry is described as “nature poetry” because it sounds more flowery in terms of really getting underneath all of the dirt and issues that come along with nature, which is what Eco-Dementia exhibits.

I then attended Joanna Ruocco’s reading on October 24th at 6pm.  Her reading was successful not only in fostering a sense of community, by helping foster young writers’ individual voices.  The pieces she read were lengthy, but each sentence was packed with experimental language to keep the audience engaged.  I noticed several people, including myself that laughed and smiled while listening to her read, particularly “My Future Boyfriend”(her “Dan” excerpt was also humorous).  This piece formed through a response to artwork, which is a similar to a writing/photography class exercise I have participated in at our EMU galleries.  If I have learned anything about Joanna Ruocco’s work, it’s to hone in on finding your voice as a writer while also being open to other possibilities for different styles of genres.

As a creative writing major, my college experience has been about finding my voice through writing and both bathhouse readings have helped me learned how to think outside the box in terms of getting the audience to be invested in my own writing style.  Expansion of the mind and the words on the page go hand-in-hand.  Ultimately, writing should be a way to bring an audience together and leave them thinking about the meaningful questions the work provoked.

Review of Janet Kauffman’s in-class discussion of ‘Eco-dementia’ (9/26/17)

By: Adam Malinowski


“i believe any string of words put together makes meaning” — Kauffman, at Emu, 9/26

the image of the fish (or, the logic of k=q=e) is the magical manifesto of Janet Kauffman’s Eco-dementia, a book of poems where all things—language, life, and all beings—are equal. Kauffman’s poetics nestle language thick inside the ecology of the physical world we all inhabit, but are quickly losing touch with, quickly forgetting, as we deepen our de-realization with life, the body, and the infinite bodies within and beyond us, committing ourselves (those of us plugged into the techno-capitalist machine, the majority of us) to technological alienation. Kauffman’s critique of positivist technological utopianism was best summarized when she stated, “physicality is much more important than meaning.” Meaning being the universal sign, the rationalist logic of the prevailing sexist, racist, homophobic, and imperialist social order. The body is in opposition, always & already, to this logic of domination. The body lies still in a thicket, in wildflowers and wild weeds, laying still beneath the sound of geese flying south in October. Delayed migratory patterns. Delayed apprehension of the materialist logic of late capital, misunderstood best in the deep seat of the thicket.

“Caught between rocks, the blue

mud ushers in

glacial till.” (p. 4)

Language is an aural medium for Kauffman. Perhaps she herself is a medium of sorts; her poems are best understood as spells, operating w/in a magical logic of associative verse and making something happen in the world that otherwise is imperceptible. Kauffman previously worked with an environmentalist group in lower Michigan that lobbied Lansing politicians to change pollution laws (her farm is somewhere along the watershed of the Maumee river, which connects to Lake Erie, and experiences huge algae blooms due to industrial pollution). although k=Kauffman knows her poems won’t change policy, she begs the question: on what level can they effect change, on what level are they affecting? Kauffman’s poetry, in her own words, is an assemblage of language tantamount to the “collections of talismans people places on their windowsills”—for Kauffman, poetry is memorious and felt, guiding our way, like crystal magic does, through the loss of contact with the physical world (home reduced to 4 walls and a front door) into the expansiveness of the planet as home, where our shared ethic is invisibility.

Kauffman’s poems are also informed not just by the loss of contact with the world, but by her own loss, the death of her father, who lived at the end of his life with dementia. her father would never know where his home was, and neither do we. place is not the highway, not the car, not the suburb, or the city. it is the ecosystem that underpins our artificial environs, the biosphere that sustains us all, that we are currently placing in peril. what grows at the side of the freeway? herbs and flowers and bushes and waterfowl and wildlife and kinds of trees. someone once told me St. john’s wart, an herb to ward off depression, is often found at the sides of Midwestern highways. the earth responds, poetry responds, but do we? only under conditions of immense psychological change, do we begin to respond differently. Kauffman felt less in grief about her father than she spoke about him in awe. The way he saw the world was not inaccurate, but less easily understood to humans living in present reality. Rather, Kauffman suggests, he may have seen the world in a less filtered, less mediated way. He would see things that were not “there,” or comment on things “not going on.” The poems respond similarly—to that which we cannot see, but which are, in fact, part of our reality.

—> in this sense, the poems are interventionary.

“because nothing makes a sound not one of us

animals in the end behind walls even the air

drowned out mouths open in every cell” (p. 47)

This poem (c. 2004), written under conditions of personal illness, rampant corporate pollution in lower Michigan, and the horrors of U.S.-sponsored torture in Abu Ghraib overseas, in particular, not just responds to these events, but if we take the poem as a discrete spell, a discrete aural and linguistic event, intervenes in our reality (or in reality), shaping our heads and twisting our brains, giving us new sense, like all good poems ought to do. My question now is: who do these poems ask us to become?

Literati Bookstore Reading: Thylias Moss

Author: Alasin Maynard

​In Ann Arbor, at the Literati Bookstore, there was a reading from Thylias Moss. This was one of the most interesting readings I have been to. Moss allowed the audience to choose which of her poems they would like for her read. The audience was free to ask questions and make comments throughout the reading, creating a dialogue between Moss and the audience. This dialogue created a personal connection between the speaker and the audience, and as audience member, that personal connection made the reading more powerful and enjoyable. It created an open atmosphere with a personal connection to the speaker and the poems.

When Moss was reading her poems, she was very expressive. Her voice changed when she read the poems as if she was taking a voice of a character, and she changed from soft to loud when she read certain parts. Instead of reading standing still, there was movement as she read them. This expression made it very interactive and visual, making it very powerful and creating a strong connection to it. It was also very interesting when she interrupted herself while she read the poem to explain something or to make a comment. These interruptions during the reading made it very interactive with the audience, and it gave the reading a unique and causal quality to it.
​In her poem, “Wannabe Hoochie Mama Gallery of Realties’ Red Dress Code” the words red and dress were switched around in different sentences in different ways. It was a very interesting way to play the language with those two words, and it gave the poem a sounding quality that was unique. In another poem “The Warmth of Hot Chocolate,” she had some very good and strange imagery such as “pure thoughts were the original cowboys”, and “my wings actually grow from my scalp.” She also put a new spun with human relationships to God that was very interesting, and the images described spoke for themselves. There was a new of view of God that I never heard of, and it included a new image of Him with wings. It broke the conventional views of God that I heard of, which was interesting to hear in a poem. It was very creative, descriptive, and had strong imagery.

​In another poem, Moss took peaches expanding the description and played with the word using phrases such as “peachy keen” or “Peaches of me.” She was using a peach’s physical characteristics, associations, and the word itself to create beautiful and playful language. It was amazing taking to have something like a peach and have it spun in all those different ways defamiliarizing the word peach.

​This was a very entertaining, powerful, and interesting reading. Moss has a very unique style of writing and reading that can’t be put a category. Her poems introduced new ways to break conventions, and different ways a reading can be performed. This interactive reading introduces new forms of writing. It made you think about new ways and forms you could create.

BathHouse Review – Daniel Borzutzky and Amy Sara Carroll

Author: Anthony Echols

On September 27, through September 28 Eastern Michigan University was presented with two amazing guess speakers, Amy Carroll, and Daniel Borzutzky. My immediate response of there reading or rather the immediate word that came to mind was inspiration. Although, their podium inside of Eastern’s auditorium isn’t exactly the definition of immediacy, both Amy and Daniel had no problem doing just that. Rather it be preforming over cartoons or words sprouting out of air there, word both about and in the poem itself are extremely elegant.

Reviewing Amy Carroll presentation, one could pull away with a sense of belonging, beauty, becoming of words and different ways words could be implicated. Even more traditional poem used multicultural wording with attachment not to the meaning but to the words themselves but the creative ways to use said words. Her emphasis on placement and crossing out of certain words were beyond my reach of enlightenment. She combines both the editing phase and the metamorphosis phase where one would change the raft into the final draft. This stage is something I have been waiting to play with but couldn’t quite grasp so needless to say her technique alone could have inspired the auditorium. Her performance most visual only brought more vision and more technique once read aloud. Her ability to embrace her mistake and create something that belongs to the world of artistry is simply phenomenal. Even the word placements on the photography have a hint of embracement of imperfection. Creating a more human, pleasing, warm feel to the photo. Amy Carroll, poetry and presentation created a very personal feeling, homely, human feeling. Even when presenting inspiring, intelligent, and extremely creative work she gave a sense of home with her words and phrases.

Daniel Borzutzky presentation used amazing word play, empathic tone, creative version, and the theme of pain and love. “They pay us…” is a phrase you would hear a lot during his presentation. Both a mixture of pain, love, money, take, borderization. Is like currency within his poems. Daniel would read his poem in a style that shows his overwhelming themes, as the quick sentence, fast past leaves you with a certain ignorance that the character within his own poem would feel. Biblical analogies used to expression confusion and emotion runs deep with his poem. The uses of many figurative languages, allusive, creative language, capture the inner darkest human emotions. Daniels use of words and visual representation of deborderization causes a creation of inspiration inside of anyone lucky enough to have the experience of watching him perform.

Both Amy and Daniel confessed multiple techniques and ways to create, engaging with them, causes only ways of enlightenment. There presence was felt, and their art receive. This bathhouse reading has only made me wish for a more personal sittings with these two to see how much more they can evolve me.

“The Performance of Becoming Human” BathHouse Review – Daniel Borzutzky

Author: Jarrod Saum

This is definitely the weirdest bathhouse event I have been to since my tenure at Eastern Michigan University; and not weird with a negative connotation, or any connotation, just simply different. Immediately as Daniel Borzutzky took the stage on Wednesday the 27th for his reading, I realize that he’s not like other authors. He reads monotone, no passion in his voice that other authors will implement in their work: The type of implement that cannot be written, but has to be performed. It is almost as if Daniel Borzutzky is two different people. He is the author in his head, and a professor and scholar elsewhere. Confused? Let me explain. Watching Daniel Borzutzky on stage was like watching a random stranger come off the street and read his piece. There was no punctuation, no conversations—nothing. It felt like behind that author was not passion, but sadness, exhaustion, and possibly indecision at what he wanted to feel.

The only time I noticed something different was when he read aloud from The Performance of Becoming Human. This is when I really noticed a distinct difference from the work. Physically it is written as poetry, when you look at it, you cannot help but implement some sort of surrealist claim to it and it is a nonsensical world. There are line breaks every other sentence, it doesn’t seem to connect in my mind except for when Daniel read it aloud. This is when I realized perhaps there was some passion behind his voice and he was letting me hear it the way it supposed to be heard. The novel came across as more prose writing, he put periods here and there where he purposefully left them out in the poetry. He broke his stanza’s with human nature and his book became more of a novel, less surreal and I began to understand it more and more. You see that was my problem with it to begin with—I felt it was pompous and overwritten to the point it was supposed to make no sense. The words were so large that it was deemed great simply because of the merit and the “contemporary form.” But rather attending the reading, and attending the performance Daniel did on the 28th, when he covered up Speedy Gonzalez, gave me a keen insight on how this novel is supposed to viewed, and supposed to be read. Giving it a second read through it’s as if Daniel Borzutzky has showed me where the invisible quotation marks are, where the punctuation is—but more importantly—the sadness in his eyes and voice showed me why they mustn’t be there.

“Being Language” BathHouse Review – Daniel Borzutzky and Amy Sara Carroll

Author: Krysta Blankenship

Daniel Borzutzky and Amy Sara Carroll’s works intertwine in a way that allows them to support each other, and this was especially apparent in the BathHouse Readings on September 27th and 28th in the Student Center Auditorium. On the first day, Borzutzky read a few pieces from his work, The Performance of Becoming Human. When he read, “Lake Michigan Merges into the Bay of Valparaiso, Chile, ” my perception of the work shifted. Actually hearing him say the words the way they were intended to be said allowed the musicality to flow through the piece. It was clear each word was specifically chosen to work apart of something larger than itself. His words haunted the listener and lingered in the air.

These ideas mixed with Amy Sara Carroll’s visuals allowed for reflection. Her linoleum block printing pieces invoked a visual response from viewers. She also read from her work, Fannie and Freddie. This work forces the reader to question its motives and reflect upon its meaning. Carroll states how it, “actively resists being read.” Finally, she showed an app created called Codeswitch: The Transborder Immigration Tool. This app uses poetry to not only aid the soul but the body as well. It can be downloaded to any phone, and it helps a person navigating across the U.S. Mexican boarder find water. The work features many poems that give tips for survival. This aid not only helps the physical being, but the mental as well. The prose allows for an escape from reality.

On the second day, Borzutsky and Carroll gave a talk titled BOR/DER/I/ZA/TION. Both authors used their work to show what borderization means to them. One captivating piece shared featured Borzutsky reading his work over an episode of Speedy Gonzales. The way he paired the words with the visual allowed the listener to personally connect in a way that would not have been possible without the visual. He also used many modern movies to aid his lecture. This shifted my perspective of how borderization works in modern day life.

The BathHouse allowed me to gain a new perspective within my own writing. I see how sounds of specific words can work to create a new meaning. It seems as if these two authors came together to create new ideas within the idea of hybridity. Though their works do differ, they work well together.

Overall, the creative writing program at Eastern has given me a safe place to nourish and stimulate my writing. It has shown concepts that have pushed me to discover more about myself as a writer. It especially allows language to lead. We are not creating language, but rather language is working through us to create something new.

BathHouse Review – Daniel Borzutzky and Amy Sara Carroll

Author: Alasin Maynard

Within the Student Center Auditorium, we had interesting performances by Daniel Borzutzky and Amy Sara Carrol. I read Borzutzky’s book, The Performance of Becoming Human, and hearing the poems out loud was a lot different than reading it. When he was reading “The Private World,” there were times when his tone became softer making the language more haunting bring the darkness in the poem. Hearing this tone of language about the immigrants in the truck made it more haunting. The spoken language made it more personal, and if felt like you were experience the events. When Borzutzky read the line, “It wants to melt your body to bleach your body…” it gave the feeling it was addressed to you. It gave the quality that it was your body that it wanted to melt. The experience was more personal and real with the language being spoken. Borzutzky shows the texture of the language with reading the roughness and softness of it. You could hear the language illustrating the events that were described. For example, the Cs and Ks sounds of a poem from the collection Country of Planks illustrated the harshness of the Chile prisons.

Amy Sara Carrol’s performance included both reading poems and showing images from her books. In one section called Session, images with words in different patterns, or pictures with words inscribed on people were shown. In a few of the poems, letters of the alphabet were the center of the poems. For instance, in one poem the letter S is represented with its sound, and the image displayed the S nature of it. Hearing the s sound made the language sound like a tongue twister and hard to speak. There were a lot of familiar sayings within in these poems that shaped some of tongue twisting in it, and it defamiliarized them. The image that was shown emphasized the sound of the poem. The performance showed the hearing and visual impact language has.

A lot of the pictures showed language in different formats. There were a few images that showed some crossed out lines on a paper. The crossed out lines made it looked like they were mistakes that were supposed to be crossed out. There was a picture of struggling to put it into words. When Carrol read one these poems, there was emotion that matched the pain and struggle of the image. We could hear the pain and struggle when it talked about race and gender mixed with dark humor. The Spanish in the poems crossed two language cultures showing the dual identity that immigrants have to faced when they crossed the border. The images and the spoken language of these poems gives us the sound and visual impact language can have.

The Codeswitch poems were very interesting with giving survival instructions in the form of poems. Something that was meant to feed the physical body and the spiritual body for immigrants. Interesting on how both the images and the poetry served a dual for the immigrants with feeding the physical bodies as well as the spiritual body. It was a new spin on giving instructions, and it highlights the challenges that immigrants had faced with coming to the United States.

The performances by Borzutzky and Carol portrayed immigration, privatization, identity crisis, and the ownership of the body in a different light that made you think. The styles of the performance were able to translate uncomfortable subjects into a language that expressed it. The language from these performances made you uncomfortable, but it made you think how about putting difficult topics into language. They were good performances that showed you different ways language could be expressed.

BathHouse Review – Daniel Borzutzky and Amy Sara Carroll

Author: Alex Johnston

Daniel Borzutzky dove head first into his readings on Tuesday September 28th at Eastern Michigan University, leading with a powerful piece full of nauseating imagery. “They beat us, they loved us, they paid us”. You could feel the confusion of the imprisoned not only through the content but through Daniel’s voice and inflection. The repetition was more powerful in the auditorium as opposed to reading it off the page, each line beginning with “at times” forcing you to hear the sheer mass of atrocities the prisoners faced. When he began to read this piece I immediately thought that this was a piece made to be performed, specifically for Daniel Borzutzky to perform.

When he moved on to “The Country of Planks” David’s ability to make you imagine was again evident. Lines like “…Lied one to the other like sawed up mountains” being both unique in itself and relatable to landscape of Chile. He again used repetition in his poetry and mixed that in with long winded drawn out lines that I remembered from my own reading as long run on sentences. “The Private world” was his next piece, and it pulls you in right from the start with “ The police shoved a gassed up rag into his mouth and set it on fire”. Each story was able to pull you in from the beginning, and this one was no different.

Amy Sarah Carrol came on next and the juxtaposition in tone between the two was immediately evident. This was going to be a lighter, yet not necessarily less powerful reading. Her ability to introduce humor into her poetry was never more evident than when she introduced her piece entitled “Fuck Up” in her series of art. Many of her work seemed to be less structured and more experimental compared to Daniel Borzutzky, yet none less impressive.

Amy’s work was also often more powerful in the auditorium, such as her piece “S sounding words” where there is somewhat soothing almost hypnotic effect as she seems to jam as many “S words” as she can into one piece. Conversely much of her work was better to be viewed, such as her series of “Block’s” pieces. These pieces were very “Visual, material, and conceptual” as she put it, and were much better suited to be viewed.

Both readings were very impressive and I am thankful for David and Amy for making the trip to Eastern Michigan University to read their work for us. Both of these writers/artists are very talented and I will continue to look into their work.

BathHouse Review: Daniel Borzutsky and Amy Sara Carroll

Author: Sam McClure

On September 28th, I attended a discussion panel with poets Daniel Borzutzky and Amy Sara Carroll. The theme of both of their presentations was Bor/der/i/za/tion.

Daniel Borzutsky began his presentation by reading poetry while a Speedy Gonzales short played on the screen. The short featured the titular cartoon mouse attempting to steal cheese from across the border, and Borzutsky expanded on that allegory with his poetry. There was a stark contrast between the comedic antics of the short and Borzutsky’s aggressive political commentary. Sometimes the poet commented on what was happening to the characters on screen, while other times the images and the poetry seemed to be wildly dissimilar. It was an interesting experience that would have only been possible in a live setting.

Borzutsky then showed the audience a variety of YouTube videos featuring representations of illegal immigrants. Some were quiet offensive, like Genesis’s “Illegal Alien”, but others, like a clip from Born in East L.A., represented immigrants much more fairly. His critique of the media’s portrayal of immigrants provided me with context for his book, The Performance of Becoming Human.

After Daniel Borzutsky’s presentation, Amy Sara Carrol took the stage. She read some of her poems from her collection Fannie/Freddy. I hadn’t encountered Carroll’s work before her presentation, but her delivery was very impressive. She also showed a clip of a documentary about an app that aids illegal immigrants crossing the border. Not only does it give the user survival tips, it also contains relevant poetry. I thought the app was an interesting combination of art and technology, and the documentarians did a good job of explaining the functions of the program in a clear and concise manner.

My favorite part of the presentation was the question and answer session, where students asked the poets to respond to the racist vandalism on campus. One man was very inspired by Amy Carroll’s use of poetry for activism. This led to a discussion on the effectiveness of activism against those using hate speech to gain attention for a cause. If the whole school comes together to protest an offensive, yet relatively minor crime, does that prove our strength by showing racists that we will take a stand against any level of hate-speech? Or, are we giving the vandal more power by showing them that they can create outrage with a single can of spray-paint? It’s a dilemma without an easy solution, but I’m glad that the student body is thinking about it.

Needless to say, there was a lot to think about at this BathHouse event!