by Shira Dentz
Essay Press, 2016
I used to babysit my neighbor's son. We, the son and I, are separated by about six years. Some days he'd want to be rambunctious: hide things, refuse dinner, run around until his soul had grass stain; some days he'd want nothing more than to play LEGO Indiana Jones — completing missions, collecting trophies until he would, inevitably, receive a 100% completion on the game (which, to my more LEGO-game-savvy-friends, is quite the accomplishment). These babysitting moments were always during the Summer though. Northrop Frye, literary critic, wrote about archetypes of literature in terms of seasons and their personae; comedy & tragedy, presence of the hero — Summer, for him, was a romantic comedy wherein the hero is born. Reading Shira Dentz' work reminds me of this mode — of children playing until they don't, of maintaining the seriousness of a joke, and of pursuing the complicated boundaries between expectation, clarity, distance, and empathy.
Flounders (Essay Press, 2016)
maintains its images throughout: warm colors perceived and explored in a multitude of dimensions; channeling crickets & amphibians in an otherwise deeply-wrapped-within-the-human work; pursuing those relationships between parent, child, and adult. It makes me think of the age old question: why is it that movie theater popcorn tastes slightly better than what we make at home? The answer, of course, pointing towards the threats that movie theater popcorn poses with its immense quantities of butter and salt that will, if given the opportunity, strike you down.
It would be unfair to avoid discussing the formal procedures of the prose in Flounders
. How the work presses a reader as if we were undergoing a job interview with a subtlely gracious interviewer, asking some leading questions because they favor you as a candidate. I think of the organizational modes in terms of a cantata — that there are multiple voices one might listen to (the noises that a child makes, the noise of an environment), and yet paying attention to them all within their individuality is one of the many operations which makes this work memorable.
As the book ends, Dentz gives us this line: "I allow myself to be dialogue between them and everything with the/ anger, naturally." The threat of being endangered — spiritually, morally, physically — by the various other forces impeding on any given individual's world seems to be what enables anyone to push through the dense interstices of information and revive the core of understanding, empathy, generation. Or, perhaps all one has to do is think of hospitals in terms of crayola colors — that there need not be such a grave claim being made in order to simply think about the world in the festive vitalities of childhood. I'm unsure, of course. But I don't find myself aching to be more sure in my sensitivities. These are the dangers present in Flounders
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