Scoring The Silent Film by Keith Montesano
Dream Horse Press, 2013; 77 pp
Reviewed by Matthew Guenette


After reading Scoring the Silent Film, I was tempted to a regiment of film-watching in order to catch up with the poems. This could be problematic for Montesano’s follow-up to Ghost Lights, his excellent debut collection, but it also marks a more ambitious undertaking—a collection that sets out to challenge the aestheticization of violence on film.

The poems are short and formally tight—14 lines apiece, though not exactly sonnets in terms of the turn—with evocative titles that find “The Author” in the midst of a cinematic happening:

What I could do was cower behind a bench, their guns
             still firing, as women—far away but never far enough
from the one second & trajectory & fortuity that could
             end an existence—still ran, holding onto children
in their arms…

So goes the opening to, “The Author As Man Who’s Walking A Few Blocks From The Bank During The Robbery In Progress In Heat.” Montesano’s decision to frame each poem this way usually does the trick—it allows him to exploit the energy of the scenes in question, which in turn frequently springs a poem into something conscious and enduring, as in these final lines from, “The Author As Man Who Runs With The Others As They Try To Escape From The Monster In The Host”:

…I go the opposite direction, crawl
under a bus in the parking lot, unable to hear anything
but the roar coupled with screams, feet still pounding
the cement before followers do the same, saving
ourselves, not able to say we’re doing it to go home to the one
we don’t deserve, the one we really want to live for.

The inspiration for this “score” might be a slick, intelligent Korean monster movie about toxicities both environmental and psychic, but the monster we end with is ancestral fear: of being alone, of not having risked for love all of one’s worth.

The array of violent backdrops lends Scoring the Silent Film an anxious, elegiac feeling that works more often than not, but there are moments where that feeling threatens to exhaust itself. I found myself wondering more than once how a poet as skilled as Montesano would score other scenes: of joy, pleasure, even the ridiculously comedic. Something like, “The Author As Man Who Overhears Brian Fantana Talk About His Cologne ‘Sex Panther’ in Anchorman.” A poem for another collection perhaps...

For now, with this collection, Montesano has managed to rescue—like the heroic imagination of film itself—violence from violence-as-style. In doing so, Scoring the Silent Film invites the reader-via-“The Author” to grapple with violence on a level that is potently intimate.