Dissolve by Sherwin Bitsui

Reviewed by Taylor H (Library Staff)

Dissolve by Sherwin Bitsui is a collection of poems that gave me mixed feelings. The imagery Bitsui uses is unique, and the language of each poem is rich and thought-provoking. Over and over, I found myself drawn to particular lines. For example: “No language but its rind/crackling in the past tense” (p. 7). And: “We remember their footsteps/moored in glass jars” (p. 56). There are so many beautiful lines like these throughout the collection. My favorite lines appear on page 14: “The flattened field is chandeliered/by desert animal constellations.” I always enjoy reading poetry that makes me think, Wow, I wish I could write a line like that.

My main complaint, however, is that the message is often lost in the language. Sometimes the joy of reading poetry is creating your own meaning from the words, but I do wish I had a greater sense of what Bitsui wants a reader to see from each poem. I also felt that the collection was bogged down by adjectives at times. Poetry can be written to be wordplay rather than having some deeper meaning, but I don’t think that was the goal with this book. Some lines and stanzas felt clogged and a bit “wordy.” For example: “A hovering smear/trailing desert washes/fenced in with a murder of mirrors/illumines the eating growing over us” (p. 21). I couldn’t grasp what this is supposed to mean, and I found myself tripping over the words. Furthermore, none of the individual poems have titles. While this can be an artistic choice for poets, giving the poems title probably would have cleared up at least some of the abstraction throughout the collection.

Overall, though, I enjoyed Bitsui’s imaginative use of language. I tried to suspend the need to know exactly what was going on, which allowed me to appreciate the precision of Bitsui’s word choice and originality of the images. Bitsui’s poems are examples of just how vivid language can be.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (811.6 BIT)

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