The prevailing atmosphere of Sandra Ridley’s fourth collection Silvija is one of smothering gloom. Comprising four longish movements broken by a series of short refrains, the poems vary somewhat in terms of style and address, but their subject matter returns obsessively to sites of old trauma. Certain recurring motifs (abuse, the death of a child, the woods) flicker past again and again, just out of focus, as if glimpsed through dark water. Because these details are left obscure, it’s natural to wonder if, say, the dead child in the opening poem is the same as the figure buried in the last, or if the images simply rhyme in grief. The fact is, sifting the text for clues is the wrong way to go about it, no matter how the intimacies of its internal conversations might seem to beckon you. Ridley is too controlled and perhaps too cautious a writer to leave in some overlooked key for decrypting the work. Per the publisher’s blurb, the collection “is a linguistic embodiment of psychological suffering, physical abuse, and terminal illness,” which sounds about right. The cumulative effect is abstract, suggestive, like a classical dirge or the drowned, ambient techno of Wolfgang Voigt (Gas).
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