Sunday, July 15, 2018

Feliks Jezioranski reviews Sarah Dowling’s Entering Sappho (2017) in Broken Pencil #79

While I very much appreciate that Feliks Jezioranski took the time to attempt a review of Sarah Dowling’s Entering Sappho (2017) in Broken Pencil #79, I really think her wee chapbook deserves better attention than this. I mean, I know sometimes reviewers don’t “get” certain works (it happens to the best of us), but I wish Jezioranski had worked to find a bit more background (you can see the original review here). Fortunately, this is the second review of Dowling’s title, so why not go back to see what Amanda Earl was good enough to write on her blog? As Jezioranski’s review reads:

Sarah Dowling’s zine Entering Sappho is a love poem. All we know if the lover written to is that the speaker is completely overwhelmed by “you.” We also know that “your” voice is especially devastating; by my quick count there are 13 references to this voice.
     Repetition is the poem’s dominant technique. Some of the pages are a listing of places the speaker “is” and persons (and, especially confusingly, concepts such as xenia – hospitality) from Greek antiquity, followed by the words, “I wake up and disappear,” or else, “I wake up without coming to.” Beyond Greece and sex and romance generally, I do not understand the connection to Sappho. These essentially identical lists occupy five out of 21 pages.
     On the rest I found an approximation of this: “as soon as I see you – hardly / because I have seen you, I lack the / voice – this voice no longer reaches my / lips, and my eyes perceive nothing – I’m / greener than grass – and I die almost / of failure – I trickle with sweat…” There’s some variation in structure but by my count there are 13 lines or couplets about dying/being nearly dead, 18 times about sweating, 21 about trembling or vibrating, twelve about “subtle fire”, 10 about green grass, and 31 about not being able to speak/hear/see in the presence of the lover.
     There were certain stanzas that seemed interesting but which I had trouble understanding, which was frustrating when sandwiched between repetitions. There several cryptic references to pressing enter.
     Tallying may seem like a cheap way to evaluate a poem if rhythm and repetition are being used to create the sensation of being overwhelmed. However, getting back to the issue of the lover, I found it difficult to be invested in the speaker’s romantic asphyxiation without having any sense of its cause. Why am I reading 31 examples of the same thing when I could be exploring the poem’s other character? For me, Dowling’s repetition had a deadening effect, boredom taking the place of romantic intensity and empathy.

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