CUTBANK REVIEWS: Shore Ordered Ocean by Dora Malech

cover imageShore Ordered Oceanby Dora Malech Waywiser Press, 2009

Review by Charlotte Seley

As a writer who loves and appreciates titles, who thinks they are super important, should be both creative and somewhat telling of the journey I’m about to embark on, I pondered for quite a while about what Shore Ordered Ocean might mean in terms of Dora Malech’s collection of poems or her poetry as a whole. At first, I felt impelled to think it was a nod to the power of her poetic voice—how it is both strong but also made of liquid. How the impact of the ocean against the shore packs a mean punch. Then I thought maybe it spoke to the way in which her poems are strung together, how there is a certain magic in them that is inexplicable much like the force that orders the ocean inland. I think all theories I could come up with certainly contribute to Malech’s collection as it is massive like the ocean in all of its commendable qualities.

What I love and envy about Malech is how she takes a risk in exposing all her threads. The work she puts into each poem is easily traceable and doesn’t feel showy, pretentious, or obnoxious. Her associative leaps create their own logic that is absolutely operative in her poems by way of linguistic twisting. If the image isn’t driving the poem to its cohesion, the sonic delights are. A poem like “City Beach” plays with the reader by saying, “I could clap flippers skip the asterisk / and hop a plane” instead of opting for the more frank and obvious. Malech invigorates language, creates a playful rhythm without sounding like The Cat in the Hat or meter for meter’s sake by combining more traditional metrical techniques with colloquialisms or appropriations of common sayings and witticisms that she ultimately turns on their sides. However, her poems, and such is the case in “City Beach,” save themselves from operating solely on its sonic pleasures by also presenting familiar images in order to revitalize them: “A mouth in a bottle is no kiss sealed / to sender. In it remainders and no answer / and a thin relic at that.” Here, she works off of the common ‘message in a bottle,’ sealed with a kiss as a way to end a letter, and even manages to squeeze in remnants of those impossibly small antique ships in bottles with the “thin relic.” Sound and image work together, create a tightly stitched movement and unwavering harmony. A movement without movement. Shore Ordered Ocean isn’t an ocean but the wave itself, the impetus making the ocean move.


Dora Malech earned a BA in Fine Arts from Yale College in 2003 and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2005. She has been the recipient of a Frederick M. Clapp Poetry Writing Fellowship from Yale, a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching-Writing Fellowship from the Writers’ Workshop, a Glenn Schaeffer Poetry Award, a Writer’s Fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy, and a 2010 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship. The Waywiser Press published her first full-length collection of poems, Shore Ordered Ocean, in 2009 and the Cleveland State University Poetry Center published her second collection, Say So, in 2011.

Charlotte Seley is a native New Yorker, an MFA candidate at Emerson College, and editor-in-chief of Redivider. Her poems can be found in places such as InDigest Magazine and inter|rupture. She is not afraid of the future.