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Category Archives: American Poetry

This Is Not Your Moon by Matthew Woodman (Holding Dissolve Press)

This Is Not Your Moon by Matthew Woodman (Holding Dissolve Press)

Creative writing educators so often caution their students against writing poems about the moon because those poems can easily descend into cliche that doing so has become a kind of cliche. Given the content and approach to This Is Not Your Moon, it’s no surprise that Matthew Woodman has written an entire collection of poems about the moon. There is something of Charles Simic, John Berryman, and William Carlos Williams in his work, but there is something beyond these writers too, a critical eye that has anyone who reads his work questioning the basis of how we see the world. The essence of this collection is incongruity; much of it is an investigation of different instances of reification and suggesting that we should escape the falseness of our thinking.

     One of the fallacious beliefs that This Is Not Your Moon returns to often is the idea of permanence. Nothing is solid. That which we base our lives upon is at best temporary, and often does not actually exist, but it’s easy to ascribe a permanence. For example in “Tidal Friction (The Moon Moves from Earth at the Same Speed Our Fingernails Grow),” he speaks to the moon:

                        If you won’t slacken the axis,

            if you won’t arrest the greater distance

            or explain the irregularities,

            we can’t have you circulate the children,

            we can’t have you illuminate the lovers,

            we can’t have you wreath our intimacy (15).

Here, he juxtaposes the human need for regularity with the fact that nothing truly has regularity, not even the moon. There are irregularities in its orbit and it is currently moving slowly away. But the speaker of the poem demands stability from the moon, feels terrified without that stability. Of course, instability is both terrifying and a part of the human condition as he points out in “Eternal Returns” when he meditates on the death of a loved one: 

            Warning: Objects in the night sky are more

            distant than they appear.

                                                The same applies

            to those you love (44).

Like the moon we are not permanent, and we are bound to leave whether we want to or not.

     Woodman is not, however, positioning himself as someone with the answers; one of the points of the books is that we are all seeking a kind of knowledge that will never be given to us, and such is the case in the poem, “Bright Jawbreaker, I Do Salute You,” where he grapples with a question about the nature of the human experience, the fact that we do not retain the same number of bones through our existence.

            At birth, we are the sum of two-hundred

            seventy bones.

                                                By adulthood, we have

            lost sixty-four, the someday plunder.

            What happened to them? (10).

Not even our bodies are solid, and this lack of solidity, he finds disturbing and difficult. 

     This questioning gets to the root of what he is doing here. The questions he poses, about the nature of life, death and the universe, are the difficult ones that we build elaborate structures to protect ourselves from. Rather than buy into the reification meant to shelter us from existential pain and loss, he heads straight into it.

John Brantingham 9th May 2021

The Low Passions by Anders Carlson-Wee (W.W. Norton & Company)

The Low Passions by Anders Carlson-Wee (W.W. Norton & Company)

Anders Carlson-Wee’s newest collection The Low Passions reframes some of the conventional American views of poverty and wealth much in the same way that Charles Bukowski, FrancEye, and Kevin Ridgeway have. In this collection, he asks us to reevaluate our conceptions of poverty and wealth, and also simply allows us to see the day to day lives of the people around us. At times, his work reminds me of all of these authors, and of Kerouac too, especially as he travels, but he is doing something beyond them as well, updating them, showing us what life is currently for so many people.

     Much of what Carlson-Wee reveals is what it takes to survive well. In “Asking for Work at Flathead Bible,” he works for a pastor as a “floater,” doing the work that he is asked to do on a day-to-day basis, and never knowing what is coming next. “It was easier to adapt than you’d think. / If I had a hammer in my hand, I pulled nails. / If I had a sheet, I found the corner” (28). Adaptation and dignity are two of the basic components of the collection. He finds ways to survive, and he thrives in those places. The people he meets have dignity as well. When his cousin passes away, he and his family find a way to bury him with the kind of honor he deserves. It’s hard to raise the money, so they find ways to make the burial more affordable: “And someone from Odegard / Funeral Home . . . gave us permission to come a day early / and dig the hole” (74). This kind of basic decency, from the diggers and the funeral home, is part of what I love about the collection. It’s often a primer on being human.

     Carlson-Wee also gives us a perspective of what it means not to be kind, not to be human. “Mark” sums up this perspective well when he writes, “Some say / we’re still on the way to human” (67). There are people with power in this collection who help others and there are people with power who try to destroy others. Perhaps, the character who will stay with me the longest is from “To the Rail Cop at Rathdrum.” Here, an officer catches the narrator trespassing in the railyard and warming himself with a fire. There is no thought of the idea that he might need the fire to survive. He simply handcuffs the narrator to a piling, and then tries to trick and manipulate the narrator into giving up his brother to be arrested too, assuming that someone else is probably with him. He threatens the narrator and tries to get him to betray his companion, all for the relatively minor crime of trespassing.

     The Low Passions is an exceptionally insightful look into the bad and good of human nature, and I was pleased to be involved with Carlson-Wee’s consciousness for the day. The vision he has given me asks me to look and relook at the people around me.

John Brantingham 28th April 2021

The Problem of the Many by Timothy Donnelly (Picador)

The Problem of the Many by Timothy Donnelly (Picador)

‘Deep in the brain of invertebrates, the pineal gland gets its name from/ its resemblance to a pinecone.’ ‘In German, a Kepler makes hoods.’ ‘Pandora’s box was just a jar/ before Erasmus mangled it.’ This is poetry that tells you things; that’s about the world in general rather than about individual relationships, full of biology, ancient history and philosophy, and written in long sentences in long prosy lines in long poems in a portly volume of 198 pages. Where much contemporary free verse cuts and cuts, such super-expansiveness can feel oddly original. 

The poems themselves leap outlandishly from Alexander to umbels to Whitesnake, via Isaiah, glyphosate, Hobbes, Zeno’s paradox and milkweed. Similes, rather than being merely decorative, usually shunt the poem in a new direction: ‘White birches lean/ through a mist like plastic drinking straws, the same/ kind a tribesman from Papua New Guinea […]’ and we’re off among the anthropologists. Nor can the speaker resist telling you extra facts as if in parentheses: ‘Canada’s/ Bank Island, Earth’s twenty-fourth largest island, upon which […]’. Self-corrections and hard-to-parse sentences act as if he’s working out his thoughts while talking to you and not always getting them clear: 

We want what we don’t know, or what we know of mostly

through a long furnaceous rumbling lack of it composes

piecewise into numbers the choir of our never having 

had it sings

The skill, then, is not only in manipulating such an offbeat style, but also in deploying techniques that would make this potentially difficult, garrulous and haphazard voice appealing. So the speaker regularly reassures you, in asides, of his friendly mundanity: ‘Looking at it [i.e. Kircher’s calculation on the number of bricks in the Tower of Babel] now, between loads of laundry […]’. Yes, while doing all this heavy thinking, he’s going to the laundromat, taking an Uber, getting home exhausted from work, washing the dishes, just like us. Meanwhile, balancing the references to Jean Baudrillard, Wallace Stevens and Plato’s Phaedo, there’s plenty of down-home Americana: bobolink, Dairy Queen, burlap, True Value, popsicles… The overall effect is of a genial, ordinarily confused persona with enthusiasms for vanilla, lapis lazuli or cyan Powerade, and frustrations from his limited options in the face of pollution and world politics:

On average 130 Yemeni children died each day last year

of extreme hunger and disease. A Saudi blockade on seaports

stops the ships delivering aid.

What’s more, these combinations of the local and global, the quotidian and high-flown, form the theme as well as the rhetorical strategy. One major aspect is the way we poison the world in order to produce comestibles that then poison us. ‘What you’ve done to my popcorn, my popcorn/ does to me.’ The last poem contains a relentless list of extinct animals, sometimes matching their extinction dates with those of pop trivia:

…the last [golden toad] was seen on May 15, 1989, the week 

Bon Jovi’s ‘I’ll Be There For You’ topped Billboard’s Top 100.

Then it dropped to three.

The wry despair isn’t the whole story, however. There are smart metaphors and fun with classical epic: ‘I sing/ the body mac and cheese, deep-fried’. There are odes that address Diet Mountain Dew, lichen, Earth’s first living cell (‘first living cell, what have you got to say for yourself/ now?’) and a pesticide/GM company (‘at what point do you suspect a versified address/ to you begins to take the place/ of legitimate action?’); a poem of recursive similes; and one written as Nebuchadnezzar using the royal ‘we’ (‘we’re working on ourself tonight’). Plus an overarching message about how beauty and imagination keep you going, despite it all. Evidently, it’s not just its size that’s made it a poetry blockbuster. 

Guy Russell 20th April 2021

Purgatory Has an Address by Romaine Wahington (Bamboo Dart Press)

Purgatory Has an Address by Romaine Wahington (Bamboo Dart Press)

Romaine Washington’s Purgatory Has an Address is Bamboo Dart Press’s newest release. This new imprint of Pelekinesis Press publishes many poets and writers from Inland California like Stephanie Barbe Hammer, Cindy Rinne, Kendall Johnson, and Dennis Callaci; Washington’s newest poetry collection shows why they focus on the overlooked writing of that region of the United States. Purgatory Has an Address is an emotionally sensitive look at the purgatories that people live through, often suggesting a strategy for those times that has worked for the poet. This collection that looks at the pain of the world might have easily ended with a kind of cynical hopelessness. Instead, Washington’s work is life affirming and suggests the kind of courage that it takes to be alive.

     The poem “Saguaro” is emblematic of this hope as it discusses the way saguaro cacti seed and take root in the harsh climate of the desert, and it works as a metaphor for the toughness a person needs when facing the difficulties of life.

I take root 

where the ground is

hard and angry

spits the sun

back in its face

drought drenched

tap root i

burrow beyond

ancestral bones

to anchor 

a sturdy revoir

of hope (26).

Time and again, this strength seen in this cactus in the face of cruelty is offered as the way to survive and even find purpose and meaning in those purgatory times of our lives. Early in the book, childhood with all its isolation is met with defiance. As we move through the book, all aspects of life are met with this determination until she explores the aging of her parents and her parenting in a world that is dangerous and racist toward her son.

     She explores the idea and need for community while also showing us why community can seem beyond a person’s reach. One of the central journeys of the collection is the search for her missing biological parents. She is searching for people who have no name and did not name her. She cannot even look for herself. She becomes so isolated that “the clerk tells me to wait / for my number to be called / right now i am a number” (24). She is stripped of her essential humanity, and she is unsuccessful in finding her birth parents. However, she is not unsuccessful in creating family and community. She has a son and adoptive parents whom she loves. She moves to Inland California, which is hot and filled with cows, and the Santa Ana Winds, similar to the sirocco, that she calls “the devil’s breath.” While others often complain about it, she writes, “If it weren’t for the devil’s breath, / I’d never know where we are, and / Just how beautiful” (62). These words are the last lines of the collections, and they summarize what I love about the collection: how she is able to take something that seems objectively difficult and horrible and find the way through by finding its beauty.

     Washington’s work is life affirming and poignant. Purgatory to her is to be a place. Whether that place becomes one of torment is determined by the strength we have when facing it.

John Brantingham 18th April 2021

Travel by Haiku Volume 6-10: Far out on the Road With Friends (A Freedom Books)

Travel by Haiku Volume 6-10: Far out on the Road With Friends (A Freedom Books)

Marshall Deerfield’s Travel by Haiku Volume 6-10: Far out on the Road with Friends is part of a larger project that mixes haiku and haibun to create an ongoing travel narrative over multiple volumes. It comes out of a tradition from writers like Basho, Snyder, and Kerouac, but it has its own environmentalist edge prompted by what we have learned about the destruction of the natural environment and how the American West, which is the focus of this collection, is being transformed by forces like drought, climate change, and the pine bark beetle. However, it is not only a look at the destruction of the west; it is much more a celebration of how life can be lived with a kind of joy on the road. Marshall Deerfield edited the volume, and it is filled with his work and the work of his friends as they engage is these road trips.

            What struck me immediately is how this feels like the volume that might have been written by a side character in Jack Kerouac’s novel Dharma Bums. It has that kind of enthusiasm for life and travel. Some of my favorite haiku in this vein are:

            Clouds billow outward

            sifting rain from vapor’d chaff

            cliffs left unexposed (136).

            Volcanic bellies

            water so cold that it stings

            an anomaly (80).

            A lake so blue that

            jumping in feels like falling

            down into the sky (78).

There is a joy here for nature that is infectious. With the haibun, these haiku create a narrative of young people going into the new American West to find what remains to take pleasure in. Much of what we have read in older works that have the same kind of approach is gone. Times have changed and we have lost that world. Deerfield is trying to find what is there now and how to lose himself in these places.

            Deerfield also makes the point of discussing the environmental destruction that continues to plague the American West. As they drive through Texas, he writes, “This is the Gulf of Mexico. To get here, I had to ride through a literal ring of fire made up of oil refineries with their smoke stacks spewing blue, green, and red flames up into the heavens” (18). He also discusses the rise of the pine bark beetle. The beetle is a creature that lives in all pines and has for a very long time. By itself, it is not a problem, but drought, climate change and the overproduction of trees because of bad fire policy has caused the beetle to turn forests into places of tree death. In most western forests currently millions of trees stand dead and brown sprinkled among living trees. Deerfield writes,

As an ecoactivist, I never thought a forest’s demise would come from inside of it. These pine bark beetles are unlike any bulldozer or logging caravan. Chaining yourself to a tree to protect it has no use if the tree is being eaten alive from within (102).

In this, Deerfield expresses the frustration of the environmentalist raised on Edward Abbey but facing the reality that it is not just one person or company harming the natural world. It is a way of life that cannot be easily amended.

            Travel by Haiku Volume 6-10: Far out on the Road with Friends is a balm for me now in this time when I cannot travel because of the quarantine. It helps me to live through his journeys and it brings me back to my own.

John Brantingham 4th April 2021

Pimp by Ranney Campbell (Arroyo Seco Press)

Pimp by Ranney Campbell (Arroyo Seco Press)

Ranney Campbell’s Pimp comes out of a direct, narrative, unblinking tradition that includes artists like Kevin Ridgeway, Gerald Locklin, Patti Smith, and Fred Exley. These are poems drawn out of the latest period of Campbell’s life when she decided to change her life by quitting her job and moving to California as a way to break away from the traditions and limitations that she found in St. Louis, Missouri. She has found a way to express herself with a narrative clarity that speaks her truths.
Her work comes often from a memory of exploitation, which she might be angry about, but does not draw her into self-pity. “In Them Days” for example, she recalls a relationship with a man who

owned a Mercedes
dealership, how he loved
his beautiful things

I was most prized
living art
up in Alta Loma

snow
in the foothills

me
in the Jacuzzi

with those high-priced prostitutes
brought to party
when sales was good
any certain day (33).

Her work throughout has the ability to draw a picture and suggest arguments and conclusion with quick images and a couple of perfect words. We are left to ponder the implication of what it means to be a woman who is chosen to party with prostitutes. In “The Boys come,” she draws on a previous time when men simply demanded of her with no thought of reciprocity:

when they came across Gert,
they got lucky.
when they came across me,
they got stitches (12).

This collection is not by any means stuck in her past; it is equally about this new life that she is building for herself and how she came to be where she is. Her move from the Midwest and her longing to get to the West away from its humidity and to the dryness of the deserts is shown in her prose poem “Burn Off.” “Red desert. Tan desert. I don’t care. Can’t stand it here. All the trees and green and weeds and humidity and people so slowed and dull with Midwestern demands on me . . . Sticky thickness manner oppression offends my innards” (35). This reminds me so much of the themes that run through a lot of Locklin’s work. For him the East was a place of pointless oppression, and for Campbell it is Missouri, but both find a freedom to be themselves in California. For both of them, California seems to be the place where they can find the authenticity of their true selves. For Campbell, it has allowed for this book which is an expression of emotions in a style that she did not feel welcome writing in St. Louis.

Campbell’s book is the kind of work that I love to see coming out of Los Angeles. Stylistically it is what I have grown up with without being a kind of imitation of previous work. It is her own work, informed by an MFA from her hometown but innovated through the life she is pursuing in the West.

John Brantingham 3rd March 2021

An Incomplete List of Names by Michael Torres (Beacon Press)

An Incomplete List of Names by Michael Torres (Beacon Press)

Michael Torres is one of the great writers coming out of the Pomona Valley area where notables such as Sam Shepard, Kem Nunn and more lately Matt Sedillo, David Romero, and George Hammons have written from and about. Torres’s debut poetry collection, An Incomplete List of Names from Beacon Press is very much about the experience of coming from this area and how a place can work itself into a person. It’s an exceptional work that is in part about how Pomona colors the way he sees and relates to the world, and the ways that the world relates to him.
Torres has moved out of Pomona and now lives in a college town in Minnesota where he teaches, but he describes the pain and awkwardness of carrying his past and his own expectations for himself with him. He writes:

I’m at a couch at
the professor’s house. And there are two

of me. One sits, cross legged, a glass of wine
in his hand. I don’t know what kind.

He offered and I said, Sure, that’d be
delightful . . .

The other me floats between the professor
and the glass, not wondering what this man

thinks of my use of the word dichotomy (6-7).

He seems to feel a good deal of awkwardness about the place he occupies, at once feeling that he does and should belong and at the same time feeling that he does not and should not. The collection captures so well what it means to grow into a position and to still feel that imposter syndrome that follows so many people through life. Throughout the collection, he is showing that he is doing exceptional work as a poet and a professor, but he still feels like an outsider.
However, that he feels like an outsider is not surprising as this status is enforced and reinforced by the society in which he lives. At a party in Minnesota, he is describing his hometown and friends to a woman: “When I mentioned my homies, she laughed. I stared. She stopped and said, Oh, you’re serious” (53). This collection is full of moments where society is subtly and unsubtly telling him that he just does not belong, which is of course, one of the major problems of the academic world. His nickname from his childhood REMEK that he used while tagging follows him, not that people identify him this way, but he still identifies internally as REMEK. It is a part of him, and it’s not just that Pomona follows him. He wants it to do so.

Before I left, I wanted
to tattoo this town across
my back. I thought POMONA
between my shoulder blades like
a pair of wings for all those
stories I had just in case
the sky asked where I’d been (65).

If he is an outsider in Minnesota, there is the feeling that he is being forcibly disconnected from this new academic society, but that he wants to be disconnected at least to some degree to retain that part of himself that he believes to be his authentic self.
There is, of course, more to An Incomplete List of Names than this, but Torres’s sense of self is central to the collection. It is an exceptional collection as social commentary and an autobiographical debut work.

John Brantingham 11th February 2021

Obit by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press)

Obit by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press)

Victoria Chang’s collection of mostly prose poetry, Obit, published by Copper Canyon Press, calls on a literary tradition of loss that builds from the poets whom Chang references such as Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, and I would say more modern poets like Sharon Olds and even Ted Kooser in his discussion of the loss of his father. Chang is a Los Angeles-based poet who has reached that time in her life when she must deal with the death of the previous generation, and Obit is simultaneously about that loss and the strange position those who mourn are put into.

With the gravity of loss, any other concern seems trivial and moving on with one’s life seems wrong. She discusses that emotion most directly in “The Doctors” where she writes, “To yearn for someone’s quick death seems wrong. To go to the hospital cafeteria and hunch over a table of toasts, pots of jam, butter glistening seems wrong. To want to extend someone’s life who is suffering seems wrong” (68). Anyone who has witnessed the process of the death and dying knows what she is capturing so well here. Even acknowledging that one feels awkward seems wrong because that emotion cannot compare to death, so we, like her, are left not knowing how to deal with death because we have no training for it.

Obit also clearly shows us how long the process of dying can be; the narrator’s father suffers from dementia and her mother from pulmonary fibrosis. She has to watch as her mother loses oxygen over months and years. The knowledge of the coming death is overwhelming, and her father’s dementia after a stroke turns a once intelligent mind foggy. In “Language,” she writes, “Letters used to skim my father’s brain before they let go. Now his words are blind. Are pleated” (10). It is a slow burning pain developed throughout the collection, and her poems like the reality of this condition are complex and subtle.

This was a painful book for me to read, but also a necessary one. I read it slowly having to deal with the pain that is in my life as well, but that is not to say I didn’t welcome the process. This is a healing book. Part of the problem with dealing with death is that we do not have a good vocabulary for it, and we feel that there are so many aspects that should not be discussed as though our emotions surrounding death cheapen it. That fact makes the process so much more difficult, but here, Chang is speaking about it out loud. By doing so, she is giving us a vocabulary for mourning.

John Brantingham 3rd February 2021

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Faber & Faber)

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Faber & Faber)

Much has been written and said about Natalie Diaz’s second collection, Postcolonial Love Poem. It is an extraordinary and complex book that discusses among many other things the long history of oppression in the United States of the Mojave people and the legacy of that oppression. As a nature poet however, I would like to focus on its power as a collection of nature poetry. Diaz discusses the function and power of water in California in a way that I have never seen it done before, directly addressing its importance to the person and the community and the casual way that we in the United States treat it.

            I live in an area called the Inland Empire just to the east and north of Los Angeles that is much warmer and drier than Los Angeles itself. My friend who works for the water district tells me that typically a drop of water that lands in the mountains near my house will pass through three people before it reaches the ocean. It must be processed and reprocessed if we are to keep up with water supply demands. Diaz lives even farther inland where there is much less water.

            There are people in inland California that treat water casually and do not understand its importance, and Diaz’s poetry illuminates the threats to it and its importance. In “The First Water Is the Body,” She writes, “The Colorado River is the most endangered river in the United States — also, it is a part of my body . . . We carry the river, its body of water, in our body” (46-47). Here, she illustrates the connection of river and person. In a real way, the two are not just interconnected. They are one. A river is not just the riverbed, but the entire watershed of a region, and humans, who carry that water are a part of the watershed, so much so, that the water district considered the people in the Inland Empire are considered a resevoir themselves. We often forget this, but here and throughout the collection, draws our attention to the fact again and again.

            Having established the importance of all rivers to human existence and experience, Diaz then demonstrates how badly Americans treat all of their rivers. Perhaps, she does this most powerfully in “exhibits from The American Water Museum ” when she discusses the tragedy of Flint, Michigan where ill-conceived cost-saving measures ended up with lead being introduced into the drinking water. Though this happened years ago, the lead levels have been diminishing at a frustratingly slow pace, and people are not sure what effect this will have on the children of the area. Diaz uses the callous treatment of the people who live there as emblematic of the way water is treated throughout the United States. She writes of those children as she imagines a diorama in her Water Museum, “Now the children lie flat on the floor of the diorama, like they are sleeping, open-eyed to the sight, to what they have seen through their mouths” (65).

            Diaz’s insight into the way the United States is destroying itself is tied to her postcolonial perspective. It is, of course, the marginalized communities who suffer most from environmental degredation because there is a false sense that some communities are in some way divorced from the natural world. Diaz illustrates how wrong and dangerous this notion is.

John Brantingham 26th January 2021

Études: The Poetry of Dreams & Other Fragments by John Marx (ORO Editions)

Études: The Poetry of Dreams & Other Fragments by John Marx (ORO Editions)

études: The Poetry of Dreams & Other Fragments brings together John Marx’s watercolours first published in The Architectural Review and a range of his visual and concrete poems, with essays providing introductory contexts to the work. Marx, an award-winning designer and architect, based in San Francisco, works as Chief Artistic Officer for Form4 Architecture, and this sumptuous book takes the reader on a journey through his creative landscape. 

The book is divided into eight sections moments in time, apertures, absent nature, objects in nature, without intention, approaching abstraction, deconstructing perception and improvisations, indicating the book’s focus. 

The reader is instantly drawn by the quality of the watercolours, which are simple, precise and thought-provoking. They strike me as having both an intellectual and emotional meaning through their pared down simplicity and exactitude. Laura Iloniemi’s essay places them in an American Tradition showing their relationship to Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe and Franz Kline. She notes how they connect an emotional urban atmosphere with natural ‘built landscapes’, such as a sand dune or rock formation through memory and association.

Each watercolour is juxtaposed next to a visual and concrete poem. The poems are similarly pared down to simple statements spread across the page with lines positioned horizontally, vertically, diagonally and so on. The impact is powerful in that a range of potential correspondences are suggested. Thus, the poem, ‘Étude 11, 1980’ precedes the watercolour, ‘The Edge of Possibility, 1990’ and the juxtaposition enhances both as the reader’s eye moves from left to right, right to left, assimilating the forms and dream-like connection of clouds with possibilities beyond the self. The impact is utterly beguiling and accumulates as one follows the journey. 

Whilst the poems may be closed statements presented as shapes and visuals, they are in essence linked to the hypnotic watercolours through juxtaposition and the movement of the eye and mind’s eye. The poem ‘Étude 48, 2005’ has a whirlwind of broken circular lines around the words ‘In the cycle of change / we endure those extremes / each adding / a layer of humanity / to our journey’, and ends with the thought that life asks

‘that we / live intensely / and in the moment’ (in blue). It is placed opposite the watercolour, ‘Ethereal Construct, 1998’ with its two narrow windows and a door within large and rigid building blocks. The eerie atmosphere of the buildings, reminiscent of Hopper, are in contradistinction to any intense living in the moment. The eye returns to the smallness of the windows and door, suggestive of a narrowness of vision and line of thought around scale, balance, opportunity and extremes leading back to the poem’s content. This reflective approach is enhanced by each successive combination in the book and is thus thoroughly provocative.

The work is ultimately philosophical despite its dream like qualities and concerned with vision and a visible language linking our inner and outer worlds. The watercolours often evoke, or imply, an absence. We are, I think, ultimately being asked to consider how we find balance in a world of constant change. This is an utterly beguiling book creating a wonderful synergy between the poems and watercolours. 

David Caddy 13th November 2020

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