The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2019

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APR 2019 Issue

Shira Dentz's how do i net thee

The work drips with moments that leave more than dirt around the fingers.

Shira Dentz
how do i net thee
(Salmon Poetry, 2018)

Shira Dentz is a deft experimentalist that casual readers of contemporary poetry need to discover. Like CAConrad in While Standing in Line for Death (Wave Books, 2017), she is a master that never settles for the gestural. She weaves limbic emotions into a tactile poetic. At its most successful, as in “Ringed like a tree,” her work situates the mystical with the morphological:

Wind pets leaves
Just nab fragments:
Someone else’s skeleton trees,
the tendril of a sweet potato

how do i net thee collects work that has appeared in American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, The Denver Quarterly and Verse Daily. Combining pointillist lines, varied forms and a dry tone, it also showcases a poet who, after three full-lengths and prizes from the Academy of American Poets and the Poetry Society of America, has entered a new phase of her career. The transition has not gone unnoticed. Reviewers at the Iowa Review, Colorado Review, Seneca Review, and DIAGRAM have all been unanimous in their praise.

The work drips with moments that leave more than dirt around the fingers. how do i net thee makes their accumulation its central trope. Dentz’s “net,” of the title, is glossed in the proem, which offers an erasure of the dictionary definition. The net not only gathers; it also holds “a m o u n t, w e i g h t” between swollen strands. Dentz is playful while presenting a sly guide to her praxis: the net is what is “remaining after all remaining necessary deductions have been/made.”

The poet’s methods are confessional, though not in the emotive mode. In place of the dramatic frame of Plath, Dentz’s confessional presents itself as disruption. Its suddenness decenters. The time through which the work moves is subsumed by the timeless becoming Bachelard called the “cogito of emergence.” In “Marsupium,” one of the collection’s strongest pieces, displacement emerges with a blade:

scales of belief when
my brother needed to go to the hospital
scales, eels, question marks, many songs at once
what is there to believe, father?

how do i net thee reinvents Confessionalism for an age when intimate personal overshare resides alongside ads and other digital detritus. The speaker’s casting replicates our cultural obsession with refreshing our screens. Its resonance, even without direct reference, shows the elasticity of the trope, as well as its ability to contain Whitman’s multitudes.

The most compelling quality of the work is its texture. Dentz uses texture the way other poets rely on alliteration. Texture is the friction of objects touching one another in her net. It is also their individual qualities as expressed by capitalization, punctuation, and enjambment. The effect suggests an Emersonian dynamism—in miniature—expressed in every character on the page. “The way a drop,” a standout from the mid-section, seems to coil the collection’s entire prospect in its webbing:

The way a drop
of shortening dissolves into batter,
small doesn’t wash out—
or starfish
made of coal-shaped rocks,
waver and magnify as if underwater.

The first line, also the title, drops the reader into a space that simmers with horror and enchantment. Dentz’s speaker never lingers long enough to inhabit a fixed state. The shortening serves as main ingredient and prime mover. The speaker turns herself “inside out.” She brings forth a “chalkboard. yellow squeeze toy. a vest of metal shingles.” By the end of the poem, the drop is redeemed in the flames of Shabbat candles—they become the poet’s tongue, speaking both beauty and loss.

how do i net thee never wavers from this purpose. In the book’s later sections, the personal gives way to sprawling poems that cast Dentz’s net around the entire world. “Twin” and “9:03” re-enact 9/11 across the page, as surrogate sky. In “Leaf Weather,” the collective trauma of the attack echoes in the twirling of stanzas.

The poet’s net traces the same air as “The way a drop,” a repetition that suggests the collection’s earlier displacement has found unity. In “pine cone,” the collection’s penultimate offering, the drop of shortening also returns, this time as self-contained visual poem, its seed-shaped form promising life but also displaying a pointed surface. Defiant, Dentz’s speaker gathers victory beneath a sky that remembers the “tea-colored” drear at the outset:

                                   piercing someone’s
individuality what do you do with the
straw? if there was such a thing as
           melon blue,
        this sky would
           be it.


William Lessard

William Lessard’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, FANZINE, Prelude, Hyperallergic, PANK, FUNHOUSE Magazine, Maudlin House, and People Holding. His artwork has also been featured at MoMA PS1. His chapbook Rembrandt with Cell Phone was published by Reality Beach.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2019

All Issues