Door of Thin Skins

Door of thin skinsDoor of Thin Skins

by Shira Dentz, published by CavanKerry Press, Ltd., 2013.

*Reviewed by guest Kathline Carr

This is the painful and unrelenting tale of Dr. Abe, psychologist and psychic vampire, and his patient/victim, a poet (poetess, he states sibilantly, beginning the process of her dismantling on their first meeting, page 3) who uses language as instinct, as tool and finally as weapon in this masterful textual project. Perhaps a fairy tale, she laments, in O. when she finds herself wishing Dr. Abe could put her in his pocket, like he wants to. She imparts in Door of Thin Skins what we have taken years to learn: fairy tales reveal barbarous realities of living, couched in succinct, palatable morsels. We, the reader, are pocketed for a time, glancing Dentz’s trauma through the slots of language, the way one views an animated whole through the stutter of a zoetrope.

Dr. Abe is a giant of a man: a man the size of a Macy’s Day balloon, searchlight in hand (15). He is terrifying in both stature and nature, made large through his boundary-busting lechery and darting lizard tongue (5). The Dr. calls when he is lonely, invites her over. She sits on his lap, he fondles her. If you had a boyfriend, I wouldn’t have been doing any of this! The crazy-making assignation of blame is affronting. Dentz brings us so completely into her written world, we can’t help but squirm as we struggle to come to terms with the by-proxy violation we feel. You think I’m doing this for you,/ but really/ I’m doing it for me,/ to the exasperated/ fingering/ to see if she was/ wet (34). Haunting phrases repeat, reappear throughout, like reverberating thoughts crowding our minds. The layout of the type becomes a character, a chorus that remarks, reminds, sneaks around corners, folds in on itself. We are metaphorically bent to the language, our ears pressed to the shameful wall.

The text, which serves to narrate a series of events but also functions as a visual mapping of the narrative, bristles with the indignant gore and pith of exploitation. It subtly flavors the poems as they appear on the page, even as they break apart before our eyes, like dissipating smoke. In one poem, Group II, the facing page contains only the punctuation from the page before. This has the effect of drawing the language away, leaving the pre-language of pain, of disorientation. Dentz notes in an interview with Nin Andrews that she uses visual distortion in her work “to enact an experience, to incorporate a phenomenological dimension to its reading.”[1] The result of the physicality of the text is to root the experience in our bodies, where it twists and distorts, as we hold and move the book (words) in our hands.

The terrible injustice of the abuse of power overwhelms us as readers, and yet, we can feel the strength that moves through each section, the feeling-for-the-ground strength that trumps Dr. Abe’s self-appointed authority; this generates hope. Reading this powerful and fragmented document I am reminded of Elaine Scarry’s book, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, and the posit that certain kinds of pain resist verbal expression. Without “referential content,” Scarry states, pain “resists objectification in language.”[2] The breaking apart of the language suits this difficult subject matter well. An almost invisible artistry, like a fine web spun through the text, ensnares and moves us as we wind our way though the story. We want resolution (for her), we want to be redeemed through a system of justice that ultimately fails to deliver us from the cruel giant of her fairy tale nightmare. Where the system fails to protect or comfort, Shira Dentz’s brave fable serves as a poignant reminder in the restorative power of art and language, of instinct.

[1]Nin Andrews Interviews Shira Dentz.” The Official Blog of CavanKerry Press, Ltd., 30 April 2013. 9 September 2015.

[2] Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. (New York: Oxford Paperbacks, 1987), p 5.

*Kathline Carr is the author of Miraculum Monstrum, forthcoming from Red Hen Press and winner of the 2015 Clarissa Dalloway Book Prize. Carr’s writing and art have appeared in Alexandria Quarterly, CalyxCT Review, Earth’s Daughters and elsewhere; she has exhibited in the Berkshires, NYC, Boston, Toronto, and at artSTRAND Gallery in Provincetown. Carr received her BFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, VT and holds an MFA in Visual Arts from The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University. Carr lives in North Adams, Massachusetts with her husband and sometimes-collaborator, figurative painter Jim Peters and daughter Mercedes.

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