farnessity by Randee Silv

Dancing Girl Press, 2018

Reviewed by Kathleen Reichelt 

My first encounter with Randee Silv’s poetry chapbook farnessity was listening to the author read her poems in a digital recording. I was pulled in by the author’s voice and the way she read. A quick pace. Short steps. A feeling that I was walking next to her through busy city streets. Taking me through image after image, around corners, up stairs, with a directness that makes all of them equal. Sentiments, violence, facts, lists, images mixed with conversational observations, real or imagined. As I continued in her rhythm I felt the rush of a busy brain, and grasped here and there for an image I could hold onto. I heard the coolness of a writer who observes without being distant. An artist deeply involved in the images and scenarios she creates, all of which I was able to better understand when seeing the poems on the page. 

Published by dancing girl press, farnessity is a chapbook comprised of twelve poems the author calls wordslabs. They are prose poems formatted to appear as blocks. How they appear visually is important to the author as Silv is also an abstract painter. She works with multiple perspectives, complex compositions and layers. To my eyes and ears the wordslabs are cement slabs making up a sidewalk. They offer a path and feel concrete in the rhythm of walking: hard, smooth and dense. Worn. Marked. They could also be building blocks or barriers. Silv’s poems are not straightforward. 

Silv plays with pronouns. You are never quite sure if she is witnessing herself, another she, herself as he, herself as we. The poems can be difficult if one is looking for a pillow, but are gratifying if looking for a puzzle. Silv’s writing requires effort from the reader. If there is a narrative, it makes as much sense as a dream does. What do you do with a dream? Pull it apart? Try to make sense, or leave the sense alone and enjoy the feeling irrationality offers? There is no dictated meaning or offering of summaries. Silv wants you to think about what you think you know. 

An example from the poem “Example”:

I stood beside her not knowing why anything is anything, 
     not knowing what cements with and without. Deleting.
     Deleting. Deletion. Deleted. Something had caused the
     palm trees to wither. She rallied us in. We climbed over
     a rope, a barrier, a checkpoint. He held his position on
     a makeshift throne, slicing away contradictions buried
     in muck. She played for him. She danced for him. The
     deepest point of the root is where the sap is. 

Each sentence is thick with contemplation. Silv offers honest confusion. She plays with words. Words for how they sound. Words for how they look. Words for the sake of words. Words for experimenting, words as paint, knowledge as questionable. Hints at place. Offerings of action. Interchangeable characters. Analogies dressed up as facts. Silv is playing, dancing, painting, digging, moving us along, but never to any certainty. 

In Silv’s poems we witness relationships. They may be people as memories, or they may be present in a scene. They are fragments. In the poem “18cor” we feel the familiar struggle between two people seated in what could be a diner. There is a cinematic feeling to it. We watch her watch herself or someone the author calls her, and we see the struggle of internal conflict. Silv never gives into melodrama, but shows the reader sadness, complexity, intensity of emotion. 

Nobody took off their jackets. I don’t know where he was 
     heading or where we were to go. He kept writing,
     hardly looking. I couldn’t see what was bumping into
     me. A sort of inventing concoctions. The in-betweens
     felt uneventful. I tried dampening the flatness. I told
     him that he already was doing three things at the same
     time. Her eyes were redder than what she was wearing
     and my eyes were redder than that. 

Silv doesn’t give easy answers or tender moments, instead offering the reader the role of detective. Poems about lovers who are thinkers. Sometimes selfish, sometimes forgotten. There is heartbreak, but no pity. That would be too easy. So would knowing who is who. Just as I am certain Silv is observing another, listening to the story of a broken heart, a moment later I think this is a letter Silv is writing to herself. But does it matter? Is there an interchangeability of experience that connects us? What happens when we don’t know? The tenth poem in the book is “Friction.” An excerpt:

Subtraction disrobed. Inciting instances. I can’t remember 
     if it snowed that week. She kept toying with her purse,
     her umbrella, her hair pulled back in a tight bun. He
     finished his coffee with pastry. She got up. Nobody
     had come. He got up. Nobody came. Fountain pumps.
     Fake foliage.

What I appreciate about the printed version of Silv’s chapbook is that it offers us the ability to slow down. To look at the way the words are composed on the page. To see the marks that separate them. To witness the impact of these moments. Sometimes disturbing. Dense. Complex. With her ear on the cracking and beating of otherness, Randee Silv writes tough, smart, and unsettling poetry.