Jeffrey Side reviews
by Daniela Voicu
Daniela Voicu’s Sky Hands is one of those poetry collections that I am always pleased to read, as it is neither descriptive nor literal but utilises imprecision and generalisation. Such aspects of poetry were the norm in poetic writing up until the early 1800s with the advent of Wordsworth and the British Romantic poets, who introduced an emphasis on descriptiveness that became the predominate poetic style in Western poetry until the arrival of High Modernism in the early Twentieth Century. Sky Hands refreshingly avoids this.
The most noticeable aspects about the collection are its use of three things: novel word juxtapositions, idiosyncratic turns of phrase, and mixing of the concrete with the abstract. These elements are present in almost every poem. The first of these elements, novel word juxtapositions, is something that has a great poetic lineage.
Two of the best exponents of it in poetry were Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and it can be found in Jack Kerouac’s ‘211th Chorus’: ‘quivering meat/conception’, and in his ‘The Thrashing Doves’: ‘all the balloon of the shroud on the floor’. And, of course, in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl: ‘hydrogen dukebox’, ‘starry/dynamo in the machinery of night’ and ‘supernatural darkness’. Other poets who have utilised this technique are Tom Clarke in ‘You (I)’: ‘siege/engines’, John Ashbery in ‘Leaving the Atocha Station’: ‘perfect tar grams nuclear world bank tulip’ and William Blake in Milton: ‘freezing hunger’, and ‘eternal tables’.
The use of this technique results in elliptical breaks between juxtapositions of words not normally collocated and which, therefore, allows for the possibility of expanded meaning. It operates similarly to Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of cinematic montage where,
the emphasis is on a dynamic juxtaposition of individual shots that calls attention to itself and forces the viewer consciously to come to conclusions about the interplay of images while he or she is also emotionally and psychologically affected in a less conscious way. Instead of continuity, Eisenstein emphasized conflict and contrast, arguing for a kind of Hegelian dialectic, where each shot was a cell and where a thesis could be juxtaposed by an antithesis, both achieving a synthesis or significance which was not inherent in either shot.
In Voicu’s poems we see similar instances of this, as in ‘To Not Lose My Self’ (p.11): ‘time strips’, ‘groan dissolution’, ‘destiny rain’; in ‘Sky Hands’ (p.15): ‘rainbow pencils’; in ‘-26C...’ (p.16): ‘finger opera’; in ‘A Thought’ (p.20): ‘gate-souls in constellation’; in ‘Raining’ (p.23): ‘impossible horizon’; in ‘Style’ (p.24): ‘nitrogen air’, ‘crown tree’; in ‘Molecular Blue’ (p.26): ‘molecular love’; in ‘Air (Haiku)’ (p.27): ‘eternal love kiss pearl soul’; and in many other poems in this collection.
Another aspect of Sky Hands that is very effective is its use of idiosyncratic turns of phrase such as: ‘depending on words hungry for invention’ and ‘I learn the blind silence’ (in ‘You are Special’, p.18); ‘the sky is naked and the thinking of time is anchored’ (in ‘A Thought’, p.20); ‘the shy night puts her cheek on the breast of the moon’ (in ‘Glow’, p.21); ‘I walk on the Tropic of Cancer’ (in ‘Style’, p.24); ‘water that flows from the heaven on your skin’ (in ‘Molecular Blue’, p.26); ‘to live correctly we must be born old’ and ‘I am lost in your crazy arms’(in ‘Cathedral of Your Love’, p.30); and ‘Every day it is a place for another day’ (in ‘Surfing Silence’, p.36)
The use of both novel word juxtaposition and idiosyncratic turns of phrase enable a sort of linguistic defamiliarisation, which is always pleasing to experience.
Voicu’s mixing of the concrete with the abstract, is also interesting. Abstraction by itself, of course, is no stranger to poetry. By abstraction, I mean those phrases and image combinations that are too generalised and indeterminate to be strictly referential. These are not to be confused with what William Empson called “sleeping” or “subdued” metaphors but are similar to what he refers to in Seven Types of Ambiguity as ‘ambiguity by vagueness’. An example of abstraction can be seen in William Blake’s ‘To the Muses’ where the phrase ‘chambers of the sun’, in the first stanza, does not specifically refer to anything. The phrase ‘chambers of the East’ in the previous line, however, does. It refers to the cavernous areas located near the mythical Mount Ida (represented in line one as ‘Ida’s shady brow’), the place from which the gods watched the battles around Troy. It could also refer to the mountain in Crete where Zeus was said to have been born. The phrase ‘chambers of the sun’ does not allow for closure in this way. The word ‘sun’ (a source of light) has no connection semantically with the word ‘chambers’ (a source of darkness). Also, the sun is noted for its lack of vacuity, unlike caverns.
Voicu utilises abstractions of this sort but also “connects” them to the referential, but in doing so the abstractions are not weakened but paradoxically strengthened. Examples of some of these are:
‘rhymes flow over the sunset’ (‘Sky Hands’, p.15)
‘we have hands to hold words’ (‘We’, p.12)
‘every window has a shadow of a dream’ (‘Windows Without Dreams’, p.22)
‘my skin is filled with cries’ (‘Style’, p.24)
‘I will paint your body with love words’ (‘Remember’, p.28)
Such a conjoining of the concrete and the abstract is to be welcomed in poetry, as, indeed, are the other poetical aspects mentioned in this review.
Sky Hands is well worth a read. Its poems span the full range of human emotions and will evoke in readers’ minds a myriad of interpretive possibilities that will enrich their reading experience and transport them to a dimension that is dreamlike in its imaginings, simple in its beauty and moving in its honesty. What more can be asked of poetry?