Book Review

Proximity is often a necessary discussion tool for intimacy. Not that there is a prerequisite distance prescribed to intimacy, but that distance and closeness can both be influencing factors in burgeoning relationships. The direct and possible results like becoming fonder of someone are so tangible and tantalizing, yet we always seem to be in discussion with (if not interrogating) intimacy. In the case of poetry, I find the poet’s role in discussing intimacy is to guide the dialogue between ourselves.

So when one comes across works like Shira Dentz’s Sisyphusina, risking form and mutability for the audacious inquisition on the self’s intimate dealings, one must then in turn listen for a moment and question. On the page, Dentz creates intimacy by churning together genre, muddling the page, and asking for your attention in specific ways whether it’s following the lineature and demarcations or following particular phrases or text across collages. Within the narratives and poems themselves, Sisyphusina takes us to the casually intimate locations of gyms, schools, homes (in all the unique capacities that idea is considered), and more to ask the reader what types of intimacies are allowed in each and what those intimacies reveal or restrain compared to the raging emotional maelstroms within.

An important facet of Dentz’s genre distortion, too, is the intensity it then brings to the introspective attempts throughout the pages of the book. Disorientation is a particularly evocative experience and emotion; when any mind is settled within a state of disorientation, each scene and environment prominently intersect with interpretations and associations, dancing images that entangle the senses. What I admire about Sisyphusina is that whether through time, the self, or the image at work, there is an attempt at definition even if it is an untrustworthy definition. The willingness to tempt solution, I think, is a particularly innovative flourish throughout the work.

What we think is a total picture
is a series, an addition of parts.

The commitment to the series throughout the work, whether through defined and clearly segmented sections or more disparate pieces, is the first poesis I would really like to point towards. The above quote from the poem “Units & Increments,” is a bit of an ars poetic statement working towards the collection—when we are given a poem in this book, consistently, it tends to be expanded upon, returned to, or reimagined in later poems. The journey of the work takes us from concrete spaces with prescribed roles––like the gym, home, or school––to less concrete spaces that are nonetheless areas, such as a sunrise or flower. These movements speak to the “addition of parts,” discussed. Although, I think arithmetically, addition functions differently for Dentz—there isn’t a pressure for an equal sign to appear; I don’t believe Dentz is really adding things together so as to solve them but instead because things feels incomplete without being added together. Instead, what I think is at work in Dentz’s addition is an effort of both displacement and orientation––or maybe reversed, disorientation and placement––as these concepts are colored by the evils of bodily pain and generational traumas. In effect, the addition towards the generation of the self.

Dentz continues with her performance piece, “Aging Music,” “Each player finds a place to be, either near to or distant from the others, either indoors or out-of-doors.” This work continues to elaborate the spatial necessity, the locating of both the self, the reader, and the author, throughout the work. After the initial addition-based arithmetic introduced, I wanted to pursue the mathematics of Sisyphusina further, and was drawn to considering the geometries at work. Geometry is often known as a science of understanding, the discipline between shapes and sizes and the application of that information to everyday life. It makes sense to me that in a book so rife with understanding the self that the author chooses pictures, lineatures, shapes, and environments to decodify what had been blurred in turmoil. It reminds me of Michel Serres’s own work, Geometry, in which he’s written, “Reason, analyze, theorize, and you forget your slavery and your real burdens. Deceptive, geometry makes everything be seen from this blind point we are meditating on.” In the players finding their places near or far, in or out-of-doors, the readers are aware of the meditation, and the audience in sum is enacting both analysis and forgetting.

The space that Dentz summons throughout Sisyphusina is an evasion of the inclusive mathematics of trauma—instead of finding experiences and associations unique to her trauma that shed new light or add new possibility to it, the work seems to be seeking to create something new where the trauma cannot exist by natural law. She writes in “a suit a suit makes”:

my father always ruffling in the background, a ruffle I muffle.
it occurs to me that validation is a form of belonging.
desperate for a form, line drawn, to contain me in infinity; nature, after all.
belonging is form

If belonging is indeed a form, then what it seems Sisyphusina is attempting to do is draw new form, new belonging, away from that which may inflict yet more pain. Close to this preceding poem, Dentz continues in “Cabinets,” “I didn’t want to act unself-consciously because, that, I knew from experience, could result in being prey.” The tremendous effort she’s taking to craft a new form and a new belonging is to enact this self that is no longer prey, that evades the predator relationship and therefore evades that necessary death.

In the end, Sisyphusina reminds me very much of the interpsychic demonstrations that Clarice Lispector offers, and the work brought me back to a quote from The Passion According to G.H.––“Give me your unknown hand, since life is hurting me, and I don’t know how to speak—.” That in all of its work is both the known and unknown hand, yearning for some form of assistance in creating the picture. Lispector would very much create a character whose realness startled her, and in this way I found Dentz’s written moments like in “Flounders,”

I seem to not want to explore my feeling now that she was
almost burning to the next room tearing up those papers.

to yield a refreshing innovation, almost burning, yielding nothing to the confining limitations of tradition, expectation, and a poetic world.


About the Reviewer

Cody Stetzel is a Seattle resident who has worked as the managing editor for Five:2:One Magazine and is currently an events assistant at Open Books: a Poem Emporium, as well as a staff book reviewer for Glass Poetry Press. He received his Masters in Creative Writing for Poetry from the University of California at Davis. His writing can be found forthcoming or previously in The Birmingham Arts Journal, Across the Margins, Boston Accent Literature, Glass Poetry Press, and more. Find him on Twitter @pretzelco or at his website