A review of Shana Linda – Pretty Pretty by Nanette Rayman Rivera

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Shana Linda – Pretty Pretty
By Nanette Rayman Rivera
Scattered Light Publications
Paperback: 92 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1448659487, EAN 13:9781448659487, July 23, 2009

Despite it’s light, almost delicate title, Shana Linda is an intense, serious read. Though rich with imagery, novel, exacting metaphor and a synthesesia of sensuality, there’s nothing easy about this work. It takes the reader on a journey through a drama that is emotionally and physically painful, moving through child abuse, rape, persecution, homelessness, poverty, grief, and longing. That the writing is so evocative adds to the intensity as it draws the reader directly into the centre of the author’s pain, though there’s nothing self-indulgent or insular about the work. Instead, the pain is used as a platform for exploration, as it finds expression in the natural world:

Birds don’t fear the last flurry of leaves, the finery of dying.

In their cou-ca-lous and caws, they lay like a sympathy

against the sky, reveling in how beautifully

they can imagine they don’t feel

what they’re feeling, awed

by the partition, how they drift toward the fascia

like the moon cajoling a woman toward the coast. (“I’m Such an Actress”)

Language is used here as talisman – a means for escaping the ugliness of the present into something bigger, and, if not better, more powerful. Rhythm and alliteration are used expertly, to create partial rhymes and a song-like metre that mirrors meaning:

A blueprint of light, like trellis-work approaching

through spaces between buildings

mountain ranging. (“Sparrows can’t sing”)

The poems follow a progression, from childhood abuse, to the sudden adulthood and loss that rape provides, through homelessness, and into an almost positive place of emotional support. As the title suggests with its conjunction of the Yiddish and Spanish, one of the main devices that Rivera uses in this work is to take disparate images or associations and make them work together. The all-too human cadence of loneliness and fear becomes a stalking cat or a tree: “A new weeping/willow just de-catkined” (“second avenue subway construction”), while a feeling of being locked-in or held back from experiencing life becomes a flower or a fish: “Like in any new country,/my petals are backstroking fish.” (“Nothing Can Bring Back the Hour”)

Above all, the work traverses the line of transformation – from the suffering of here and now to transformation into another, free-person or thing, whether it be jewels, musical instruments, Stevie Nicks, birds, flowers, colours, acting parts, fruit, the ocean, bones, or simply a ‘no-one’ in the rain:

So too do the sentences of maybe

liquefy and settle

down into a rain that rhythms

as if it never means it. (“For Tennessee Williams”)

This is poetry that is both vividly present in gritty reality, and heavily symbolic. It’s heady enough for multiple re-readings, revealing something new each time as it takes the reader down and then up again between pain, loss, and revelation. Nanette Rayman Rivera has created a powerful collection full of un-sentimental pathos and strong, intense imagery.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of Repulsion Thrust, Sleep Before Evening, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse and She Wore Emerald Then. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks