Door of Thin Skins by Shira Dentz is more an artistic display of raw emotion than a collection of poems. Part visual art, part narrative story, the book traces the consequential turmoil of a young woman’s life after she was sexually preyed upon and mentally harangued by her therapist. But it is more than simple prose. The poetry is scattered, ripped apart and shoved back together in seemingly fast, nonsensical quips, much in the way a person can’t be fully aware of the firing of neurons in their own brain. It begins with conventional stanzas and solid lines of prose, and opens much in the way a dramatic movie might, centered on a small detail, in this case, the figurine of a woman:
door of thin skins. A woman’s torso with flowing
breasts, blue and tarnished. the slight and gold.
A woman’s torso with flowing breasts,
blue and crannies of a tree; on their hole.
The figurine is probably a piece of art found on one of the shelves in the posh, luxurious office that is “furnished according to Freud, lover of the primitive.” The décor alludes to the psychologist’s focus on sex, antiquated methods, and powerful ego. This sets up the context for the coming conflict. Indeed, the psychologist explodes into the narrator’s life by arriving on the page with a blown-up, size-72-font “A.” She continues on to describe him as a “whale of a man.” There he is, massive, consuming the blank place of the page, as well as her mind, identity, and life in the coming 84 pages.
The poetry is the confusion of the narrator not only as she experiences it, but also as she recounts it in her mind, shuffling bits and pieces and rebranding the hurt over and over again. Even in that first example above, the repetition and broken grammar tell of a never-ending obsession with this relationship and situation that consumes the narrator’s life. Typography as well as the internal structure of poetry is manipulated. “Slippery Slope” has the words “slippery” and “slope” scattered across the page in large “X” formations, and slides into the next poem, “Lettery,” in which the words “slippery” and “slope” are torn up and left to a long ellipsis. There are moments and memories that are branded in the narrator’s mind, ones she cannot escape, even in silence.
In “Sense,” the manipulation of text and typography is even more dramatic and violent. There is no break from the chaos; every negative space leads into another phrase or broken word. The poem itself takes up a full spread, assaulting the reader with a flurry of lines and phrases, possibly emulating the feedback the narrator receives about her lack of “common sense” and her own attempts at trying to make sense of the matter at hand. Repetition, countless punctuation and the basics of grammar are torn asunder in the collection as a whole, but “Sense” breaks the world down even further, playing with semantics and the word’s definition. Where was this woman’s “common sense,” people ask her. How does one make sense of it all? Her senses are overloaded by trying to comprehend what makes sense and what doesn’t. Dentz breaks it all down on the next page, the last of the poem, in which the word is shoved together and then broken apart, at last ending upon an infinity symbol. It is as though she is trying to say: some things never make sense.
Between these art pieces (which is what these poems are, really) are more standard, numbered poems that give the artful poems context. The numbered series appears to be “excerpts” from the narrator’s experience with police and the trials. These conventional poems balance out the experimental poems, which may be overwhelming and intimidating to some readers. The world Dentz has created captures the narrator’s restless, reeling mind, as well as the cold disinterest of the outside world. The frustrations and hurt coexist, and yet the outside world continues to move on its own. Dentz’s collection is a powerful and unsettling art piece, delving into the psyche of a broken young woman who is surrounded by damaging people. It plays with the reader’s own sense of self and sense of the world. The last poem of the collection is an echo, in meandering, grayed-out text, of that sentiment: “that heat of inward evidence, by which he doubts against the sense.”