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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

Woman in a Blue Robe by Yoko Danno (Isobar Press)

Woman in a Blue Robe by Yoko Danno (Isobar Press)

This is the last of my little reviews of the Isobar Press publications but I shall most certainly return to scrutiny of such a fine publishing firm when more titles appear.
In the third section of this compilation of poetry and prose we are introduced to the idea of a dukodemo, a door, an ‘anywhere door’:

‘…a door to wherever you like. But I can’t think of anywhere I’d particularly like to go. Then suddenly a door in my memory springs open. Yes, on that summer day in my childhood, I knew exactly where I wanted to go…’

Imaginative doors can open up new perspectives as Alice discovered when she peered into a garden that she was too large to enter or mislaid the key when she did indeed become the right size. In many of Charles Tomlinson’s poems his art is reflected in a moment of seeing: movement caught in stillness. Many of his poems deal with doors, gates, gaps, stone cromlechs. The eye, itself a window to the soul, reveals the self by studying the intricacies of form in the natural world. In 1992 he published a collection titled The Door in the Wall. The sub-title of my soon-to-be-published selection of the poetry and prose of John Riley is taken from one of the Leeds poet’s late pieces, ‘spring. diversion’: ‘the absolute is a room / without doors or windows’. There is a sense of mysticism here with the arrival somewhere being separate from the journey and this too reminds me of Yoko Danno’s work. The poetry in so much of this new volume has a spiritual quality to it and, make no mistake, this is not some easily achieved set of thoughts: the exploration of what lies beyond the door is caught with humility and grace. Read ‘Snow Adventure’:

‘By midday, warmed
by the piercing sunshine,

trees shed heaps
of snow from their limbs

as if slipping out
of padded
white kimonos,

stand naked
in the slanting rays
like antennas,

ready
for communication

with meteors’

When I first read this I was immediately reminded of the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern and the sinews and light of her landscapes. I was also reminded of Charles Tomlinson’s recollections of visiting O’Keeffe in the Winter of 1963. North of Santa Fe and further to the West it was thirty below freezing and it seemed as if a visit to the painter may have to be postponed:

‘But one had failed to take into account the desert sun. Once it was above the mountains, the snow began to melt until it lay only in the shadows, a white geometry at the edges of buildings reproducing gables and rooflines on the shining black streets…the snow was sliding off the roofs…the oranges and reds of the desert were seeping back now through the retreating white. Water sang and flashed through the arroyos under the road.’

Danno’s landscape moves in a similar way leaving those ‘antennas / ready for communication’.
There is a quiet edge of reality to some of these poems and I urge all to read ‘Alchemy Lesson’ which moves between the world of Zeus making love to Danaë in a shower of gold pouring through an open window to Hiroshima, ‘a city burnt / in a flash of light’ followed by a different downpour of ‘black rain’.
The ‘Woman in a Blue Robe’ has been going through ‘a list of my own names I want to discard. I don’t need a personal name any longer’. Names are milestones along a path and the quiet flavour of many of these pieces of writing suggest very much that room to which Riley was referring back in 1977.

Ian Brinton 27th September 2016

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