Forms of Protest is, at first read, quite a bizarre piece of work. However, amongst Hannah Silva’s strange and unconventional writing there is a wealth of inventive and interesting content. Silva’s background in music, including playing the recorder and her experience in theatre, sees her work with sounds and rhetoric in interesting ways.
The collection as a whole offers a wide range of both topics and styles. The first poem, “In The Beginning”, with its musing on that first verse in Genesis, opens the book in a fitting, dramatic and religious manner. Thus Forms of Protest announces itself perhaps as the Bible or other holy books might. While “In The Beginning” does not necessarily represent what lies ahead in terms of subject matter, the unorthodox stanzaic layout of the poem is employed throughout frequently. “In The Beginning” uses repetition and italics to convey the sense of an echoing, otherworldly voice:
in the beginning in the beginning in the beginning in the beginning
and the earth
and the earth was without God
and the earth was without Form
and the earth was without Light
and the earth was without Face
and the void the darkness the face the face.
In “Arvo Crash” and “A mo ina \_/ jar”, Silva deconstructs words into their simplest possible forms, very cleverly and effectively without them ever becoming completely unrecognisable. In some cases words are constructed using a mixture of letters and symbols. The result of this is something that is akin to texting shorthand. While these poems might look like strange and undecipherable texts, they are still very easy to read and understand. Poems such as these, and also “@Prosthetics” (a poem inspired by several statistics on prosthetic limbs and written in Twitter- style as Tweets), provide subtle commentary on how technology and social media have impacted on our ways of communicating.
In “Gaddafi Gaddafi Gaddafi”, the poet again demonstrates the power of rhetoric and language. By simply repeating an iconic name synonymous with dictatorship in Middle Eastern politics, Silva shows how it can quickly lose its meaning and impact, becoming just another word:
Gaddafi week after week after week Gaddafi
Gaddafi until Gaddafi at last Gaddafi on morning
Gaddafi on morning the word is the same
as all other words gaddafi gaddafi…
gaddafi gaddafi gaddafi we chant our way through this
loss of meaning until we becomea gaddafi of horses
galloping: gaddafi gaddafi gaddafi.
In this poem and also others such as “Opposition”, Silva shows how important world issues are delivered to people through media especially through the constant repetition of phrases and buzzwords, which in the end loses their meaning. Whilst not wanting write political poetry, Silva uses “Opposition” to portray how catchphrases, speeches and statements made by politicians (can) amount to not a lot.
What comes across most strongly in Silva’s collection is her sense of rhythm. There is always an underlying, coherent order even when Silva’s unorthodox repetition and play with syntax make for a de-familiarising and disorientating effect on the page. What shines out in Forms of Protest is Silva’s sure handling of sound effects as a poet. Her experimentation with words, languages and sounds is impressive in a performance context, and readers should view poems like “Opposition”. This is indeed the way to truly appreciate Silva’s strengths.
Hamzah M. Hussain