Tilt Press, 2009
Reviewed by Kirsten Jorgenson
"i want love when i park the lines to open it"
It has been almost a year since Tilt Press released Shira Dentz’s remarkable chapbook, Leaf Weather, and it has taken me almost a year to write this review. It is easy to infer from this first sentence as written, that Leaf Weather is a tedious book, a difficult book (or both), or you simply didn’t get around to it. None of those things are a good way to begin the review. I suggest this: It has been almost a year since Tilt Press released Shira Dentz’s remarkable chapbook, Leaf Weather, and, like most good books, it evades simple explanation. Visually and lyrically experimental, it is elemental, dynamic, energetic, mercurial, and erotic, though the book cannot be summed up by any one of these energies. More than anything else, Leaf Weather is a book deeply invested in the vitality of change, in metamorphoses in the body, it’s symbols, our language, her language, and it demands that we spend time with its poems as they, fueled by desire, lovingly twist into and out of their traditional origins in confessional poetics, eventually becoming entirely different and unique creatures altogether:
i want love when i park the lines to open it
shuts down. a box i storage. do they have
sense to be jagged and trying to find a resting
point of no more wanting paper to be jagged
and smeared sometimesand tilted. to be torn in
a few spots. i discover i still want love when i
park the car.
("and now for contemplation")
There is no "resting / point of no more wanting" for Dentz and this relentless desire, this wanting, becomes a powerful catalyst for each poem’s series of metamorphoses. Dentz’s attention to transformation at every level, allows each poem to track its desire, thinning its original object, like candy in the mouth, to a transparent wafer through which the world distorts in the pleasure of its apprehension.
Dentz’s poem "& starting to see unleafed", for instance, works to reveal a woman stripped of the language traditionally used to understand her body. The poem begins with an classically yonic image of a "sunny peach / the red pit in all its glory, on its yellow throne" before quickly abandoning the safe and familiar image, eventually wrenching the body free from its established economy of symbols, "they say women become more free. makes you think of maude gonne. / riding a horse. bridle. different parts of your body jostling in the saddle." The word "bridle," homophonically conjuring "bridal," tethers the body to nothing; rather, the body is shaken loose in its saddle, by the force of its activity. This woman, freed in her movement, is free to inhabit more unexpected language, shapes and images, "violet. orange. they say women your body // ~ // and as imagination bodies forth ye forms of things unseen – turns them to / shapes and gives to airy Nothing a local habitation & a Name." But Dentz is not naive, knowing that the body doesn’t jostle free of its symbols so easily, "they say women become more branches / colors / hot hot shape of the eiffle." The desiring gaze of others twists them into new shapes— laurel branches, a phallus, etc.— and Dentz’s language, too, begins to disintegrate into sound, creating new distance, new room for the body to inhabit:
a rose & a lily. are various. & both beautiful.
ves you’re a face. they with oraches body jostling
out parts of ther, not how. wher one hairs & starts.
violetting a woman becomen. her,
to see unpopped colors &
starting to write colors make. riding ther, nothink of you feeling
various. violet eyes but parts of your body at because one has
the Eye of Imagination?
("& starting to see unleafed")
Until finally, at the end of the poem, a woman becomes a letter, "w", a shape that points down, grounding itself to the page. The shape carries a sound, its own, and begins to speak itself. It’s nothing we can hold onto in the end. No peach or pit.
Dentz’s poems remind us of the visual pleasure of language, its shapes and gaps, and also of the eye’s attraction to patterns that constellate meaning. For example, "and now for contemplation" distills its language from a heavy, dark text box of jumbled letters that runs parallel to its second page, calling attention to the fact that once meaning is assigned to a word, it makes a kind of border and begins to limit the possibility of that shape. This is also evident in "Black Flowers" where the presence of scribbles beside the opening lines allows for disintegration of language back into a swirl of pen strokes in the left margin. Language edges into and out of static in these poems.
Ultimately, Leaf Weather reminds us of the fact that desire is less about apprehension and more about suspension. We are always imminently reaching for a word or phrase before it changes again, keeping us in the pleasure of our pursuit, of our place in language’s momentum. We are finally made the hand alone by the prom corsage in "A Brook Somewhere Goes Against a White Mountain Discipline" "valentining mountains / a body up. / but I / don’t. there." We are behind the activity of Leaf Weather’s poems. Its wake is a good place to be.