The Bullshit Cosmos, Sarah Shapiro
ignition press, 2019 £5.00
The art of showing, not telling
A bit of background first: Sarah Shapiro experienced a difficult education, growing up with learning (dys)abilities* and struggling to learn to read. The Bullshit Cosmos details her personal journey and the efforts she made to grasp and utilise language.
Shapiro’s poetry beckons to those who aren’t confident readers and appeals to those who are. She plays with form and uses rhyme and repetition for the sound they create to demonstrate the hardships faced by those with (dys)abilities, as shown in her first poem ‘Appleseed Reading Comprehension’:
listening to prose non-compliant pose my not cross-legged
focused pose focused on windows feeting walls to listen
grasp grasping content
The lack of punctuation and line breaks creates a sensation of breathy stuttering, a discomfort which mirrors the subject's own feelings.
Shapiro toys with word formation and phonetics masterfully in ‘BLAH BLAH BLAH’, where she invents a new language of her own:
I grew ^ n a 1st wrld cuntrE
living d dream n a midL claS famLe
bt couldn’t rEd @ 8 years old
Later, the poem breaks into binary code (again emulating her experience — how do we even begin to understand it?), with odd confused lines emerging from the numerical blur:
cn U rEd this? d U fEl me?
A reader has to work harder to comprehend the poem, but when we translate her words, the reward is rich — we understand how it feels to be on the backfoot, we know what it’s like to wrestle with words in order to extract something meaningful. In this way, Shapiro optimises the technique of ‘show, don’t tell’, perfectly encapsulated in her poem ‘iN Con-ver-say-shin’:
everE nu werd
on the page iz add-ed
more of the pane
Almost half of this pamphlet is blank, a deliberate reference to the poet’s ‘world of luminous whitepages’. This deepens the transportive experience in which Shapiro swaps place with her reader.
This pamphlet is brave, bold, strong. It reaches out to those who would usually be intimidated by poetry, to find that they too can be included, understood, find their own meaning.
* learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD/ ADHD and Dyscalculia