Taste to Feel Like Music - An Interview with Shira Dentz

The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker contributor Shira Dentz chats with Aimee Herman.

Shira Dentz is the author of three books—black seeds on a white dish (Shearsman), door of thin skins (CavanKerry) and how do i net thee (forthcoming)—and two chapbooks—Leaf Weather (Shearsman), and FLOUNDERS (Essay Press). Her books have been favorably reviewed in many venues including American Book Review, Boston Review,Fourth Genre, and Rain Taxi. Her writing has appeared widely in journals including Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, New American Writing, jubilat, and Western Humanities Review, and featured at The Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day series, NPR, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily. Her awards include an Academy of American Poets' Prize, the Poetry Society of America’s Lyric Poem and Cecil Hemley Memorial Awards, Electronic Poetry Review's Discovery Award, and Painted Bride Quarterly's Poetry Prize. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she holds a doctorate in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Utah. She was Drunken Boat‘s Reviews Editor from 2011-2016, and is currently Special Features Editor at Tarpaulin Sky. She teaches creative writing at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and can be found online at www.shiradentz.com.


1. something I don’t like about eating is that then you can’t eat again for a while. I love eating strings of attachment warp woof cotton seed thyme?

-Shira Dentz, extract from "blue [belewe] moon"

AH: Your poem "blue [belewe] moon" in the latest great weather for MEDIA anthology, The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker, explores the mysteries of what can be observed and reads almost like a dream narrative. Do dreams play a role in your poetics? 


Dreams play as much of a role in my poetics as anything else, I think. Not necessarily the kind that happen when one is asleep, but I do try to access a liminal space in my work, and I guess I would say that if poets/writers are to be categorized the way painters are, i.e. "landscape painter," then I am a psyche poet. Since it is really not possible to separate psyche from nature, I can also call myself a nature poet. ETC.  But yes, I do follow the trail of my psyche often in my writing, and try to be true to its geometry (for various reasons) and not toe the line, so to speak, though doing this often keeps me in suspense about whether or not what I’ve made is “art."

If I have a dream that I remember, I will bring it into a poem and see where the poem goes from there. Usually these dreams impress me in some way and I want to explore them in poetry. My life experience has led me to have much going on, psychically, and I don’t really know how to explain how I access this dream level of consciousness. It’s just like swimming, I guess; diving into the water.

AH: If you could spend the day with any writer, who would it be and how would you spend your hours with them?


SD:  This is a very hard question for me, because it's hard for me to narrow it down to one. Also, just because one likes or is interested in a writer’s writing, that writer may not be a likable person in the flesh! So, my hope would be that meeting them wouldn't deflate their writing for me. On the other hand, I've met some writers whom I dislike in person and still have a lot of admiration for their writing! That being said, here a few possibilities of writers whom I'd like to meet with the hope of it illuminating something more about their writing:  Emily Dickinson…I'd be able to see what she had really been up to with writing on the envelopes and scraps (and then I could report back and arguments would cease once and for all), and just getting more insight into her would be very interesting to me as I'd like to inhabit more the particular geometry of her approach to syntax, among other things. Since she was so private, I'd need to figure out an inventive way that would make it agreeable to her to spend a few hours with her outdoors, perhaps. Mallarmé, but I'd need to know French fluently; getting more of a feel for him in person would, I think, make his poetry come even more alive for me. I think he and I could go to an art museum. Both as a Symbolist and as a visual poet, I have found him inspirational, and when I first discovered his poetry it blew my mind. ee cummings…because I love how he structures his poems, and I'd want to get more of a feel for his personality the same way that I'd like to get a feel for Dickinson’s. I'd like to see the way he thinks…his approach to language…in person…not to copy him…but I feel that if I were able to inhabit that space that I might become freer myself in my approach to language/handling syntax and the page. I also wonder whether I'd feel that he was so charismatic or obnoxious. I have the feeling that he was very commanding in his personal space so I may just like to be able to follow him around for a few hours as it might feel oppressive to be somewhere in particular with him, doing something in particular. I could be very wrong though, about how he was in person. The next to last person is Mina Loy. I find the way she approaches language to be very different, and I'd like to see her in action. I'd ask to spend some time with her collaborating on a collage-—an artwork—to watch her process and also riff off of her. And, Clarice Lispector—but I’d need to know Portuguese—because I love her writing and feel like it would be a relaxing experience, mentally, to talk with her, consciousness to consciousness.

With Mina Loy, I don’t know what our visual collage would look like ultimately, and what we'd end up with is precisely what would be interesting to see. I imagine bold vectors, scintillating shimmering in some places, both brilliant colors and earth colors, and wide airy ovals. One of the reasons why I’d like to do this with her is that I find the nature of the pacing and juxtapositions in her work to be unlike any I’ve come across. I experience her work as raw, distinct, and asymmetrical / her sense of geometry is something that I can’t reach closure on, yet it fascinates. This in itself is very exciting to me. Collaborating with her would be fun, further illuminate her sensibility for me—her geometry, and I think the process would pique my own sensibility to juxtapose differently as she and I would riff off each other as we collaborated in real time. I'd also ask her about her friendship with Joseph Cornell, and ask her whether and how they influenced each other's sense of juxtaposition. I think, too, we'd have a tiny but beautiful dessert with an incredible mysterious drink that is a mix of ingredients I had never encountered before…taste would feel like music.

AH: What is a poem or book which stirs you? Wakes you up in the night or imprints your skin like the most exquisite tattoo?

SD: Again, there's a multitude of stirrings, so to pick one would mean to me to pick the most recent one, or the one that comes to mind right now. Mostly, fragments of language come back to me—from published work and student work—and narratives. But I will say that Anais Nîn's diaries imprinted themselves on my skin in some way. Her diaries are wide-ranging. She doesn’t bind her subject matter according to conventional taboos, and she allows in the psychological very naturally and to a large degree. Her writing envelops a reader and its voice is close as skin. It speaks from the page personally, sensuously, and intimately, maintaining a flickering throughout—one can turn over a sentence and experience it from many angles—in this way, Anais Nin weaves both objective and subjective stances into the texture of her texts; a zooming in and a zooming out, all at once. I think one doesn't forget having read her diaries. Her quest as a woman artist is something that imprinted itself on me.



Submissions for great weather for MEDIA’s anthologies are open October 15  to January 15.

The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker is a fearless and dynamic collection of contemporary poetry and short fiction by established and emerging writers. This is essential reading for everyone looking for the innovative, the reflective, and the fearless.  The anthology also contains an interview with musician Thurston Moore.