In Sherwin Bitsui’s Dissolve, a book-length sequence with a single poem acting as preface, the Diné poet and Whiting Award winner examines and reinvents language. Here, punctuation marks engage with the landscape, “Hyphens sash the tree line’s dashes; / sleep seeps from its turquoise wails,” as Bitsui examines the ways in which places and people both create and are created by language. Merging images from urban and rural places, Bitsui insists that his readers remember “What crows above a city’s em dash, / doused in whale oil, / hangs here—named: nameless.” In this surreal and imagistic lyric, landscapes are always in motion—in process: “Slipping into free fall, / we drip-pattern: the somewhere parts, / our shoulders dissolving / in somewhere mud.” Elements of nature are active and given their own agency: “Falling from their cut hair: / hearth sounds sunlighting / the hallway back to then.” Sunlight becomes a verb, an action, that can be performed by sounds as the senses and the landscape come alive. Images circle around, blurring and fading and then returning, creating an experience like moving through the dark. We can only see what Bitsui carefully illuminates in front of us, “Mother, hovering / above cellphone light,” and “The city’s neon embers,” the rest swirls somewhere at the edge of the senses, until we are guided, once again, toward the light.

Copper Canyon Press.

— Review by Gwen Mauroner