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Editor's Commentary on the "Two Poems"

 , January 25, 2020

In  “Frontal Release,” and “Whitman’s Neuron Doctrine,” Andrew Silverman invites the reader to explore the intersection of the complex pathways of neuroscience and the physicality of the human body. We alternate between the microscopic and macroscopic—the synapse and the patient “in a tiresome hospital room.” Drawing inspiration from the vocabulary of neurology, Silverman has a distinctive and compelling poetic voice and writes with a precision that matches his subject matter. 

In “Frontal Release,” Silverman brings us to a hospital room with an inhabitant who remains nearly anonymous. We catch a glimpse of a leg and a “contralateral arm” but know almost nothing of the body—or rather, hemibody—the limbs are connected to. Silverman creates an interplay between movement and paralysis. The “dreaming limb” barely stirs; the arm briefly levitates. The alliteration of “s” in the second, third, and fourth stanzas contributes to the paralysis. To “reach out and connect,” as we finally achieve in the next to last line, is no easy feat.

“Whitman’s Neuron Doctrine,” written two hundred years after the poet’s birth, is simultaneously an ode to “Song of Myself” and a celebration of self. The physical shape of the poem on the page evokes the body of a neuron with its cell body, dendrites, and curving axon. With his first line, “And yet I contain multitudes,” Silverman seemingly picks up in the middle of a conversation. Communication represents a dominant theme and unfolds on multiple levels. The neurons communicate with one another, just as the poets do. Silverman lends the impression, however, that this dialogue is precarious: everything does for now communicate with everything else. In time, old connections will give way to new ones.

Phoebe Prioleau