Last night I happened to run accross my copy of Tory Dent's What Silence Equals. I thought it was unfair for me to comment on her work without re-reading her, so I took a peek. I still had the same feeling that I had the first time I read the poems. My mentor at Vermont College, Bill Olsen, likes Dent's work, as do many others. I just can't get into it.
Dent's poems are too compact. There are few stanza breaks, there are no spaces between the lines, there is no room to breathe, there is no air. However, her lines and images are not cliche's. They struggle to be new. It is quite possible that Dent wants to do the very thing I wrote about previously: confront her topic (AIDS) and, simulatiously, transend it. I also noticed the date of the book, 1993. What Silence Equals was written relatively near the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the US. I think, although not sure, that it was one of the first poetry books on the subject. It is clearly a brave move.
But, the experiement doesn't quite work. I can't find the emotion in the poems. I can't feel what Dent is going through. She keeps the reader distanced. I was, in short, bored. I can't help comparing Dent's poems to What the Living Do by Marie Howe. Here is the poem:
WHAT THE LIVING DO
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living room windows because the heat;s on too high in here, and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping the bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss -- we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless.
I am living. I remember you.
Of course, the poems derive out of two vastly different situations. It must be so much easier to write about someone else's mortality rather than your own. However, Howe's poem delves into a emotion that I find so lacking in Dent's work. Howe examines the world much in the wacky way I though David Chase of the Sopranos did. She makes us stop and look at the world. She makes the ordinary magical. She reminds us of the tiny details, how wonderful and aweful.