Bryan R. Monte – AQ25 Summer 2019 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ25 Summer 2019 Book Reviews

Susan Lloy, Vita: Stories, Now or Never Publishing, ISBN 978-1-988098-76-0, 151 pages.
Jennifer Clark, A Beginner’s Guide to Heaven, Unsolicited Press, ISBN 978-1-974021-44-0, 124 pages.

Unexpectedly and delightfully, Amsterdam Quarterly received two outstanding books in the post, one fiction and one poetry collection, by past AQ contributors. I would like to pass these books onto AQ’s readers, without reservation, as worthwhile additions to their summer holiday reading lists.

Amsterdam Quarterly’s readers will find something both familiar and new in Susan Lloy’s most recent, short story collection, Vita: Stories. One thing that will be familiar is that four of this book’s stories, which were first published in AQ from 2015 to 2018. Whether Lloy is discussing struggling writers and real estate in Canada’s maritime provinces, the grittiness and the increasing cost of maintaining an urban space to live and write, mental health issues or her characters attempts at a life in Amsterdam, her situations and characters are always memorable.

In this collection’s first and title story, ‘Vita’, Lloy deftly describes the mind of a dying man, Arthur, who recollects revels and romance from decades ago, which he relives through medicated dreams. Arthur states somewhat disappointedly that the reported film that flashes before one’s eyes at the end of life is more like a reedit made ‘from scraps on the floor put back together with the plot and characters all mixed up in one last fusion.’ He has flashbacks of meeting women at concerts, ‘corrupted by percussion and screaming guitars,’ in his younger, wilder years, then comes back to the present and discovers soup left by his housekeeper, Hazel. Hazel also brings Arthur Berlin Alexanderplatz and ‘I, Claudius and all the Cassavette’s films, with sagas of murder, poison and treachery;’ at his request ‘to remember New York when it was down and dirty.’ And the story’s final paragraph which describes the man running through a field of red poppies, trying to catch a woman called Daleighla, as he feels ‘everything little piece of me making a break for parts unknown’ is one of the most subtle, yet powerful descriptions of dying I’ve ever read.

Vita also includes two stories about frustrated and financially strapped writers who have spent their life savings for a place of peace and quiet in the country, but don’t find it without doing things they wouldn’t normally do. In ‘That Screaming Silence’ Edie escapes from a noisy, working class, crime-ridden, neighbourhood in Montreal to the quiet Nova Scotian countryside to write. However, she soon discovers her anti-social, criminal neighbours constantly make noise playing music on boom boxes and/or repairing cars. In addition, under the cover of night, they dump waste on her property, which she doesn’t discover until spring when the snow melts. Edie tries to make peace with these neighbours, but they don’t change their noisy ways so, in the end, she is driven to take a desperate measure.

In ‘Sailor’s Rest’, Olive, another writer who escaped to the country, discovers she can’t live alone when a tree comes crashing through her uninsured house during a storm. Coincidentally, her friend Uta, has to get out of Montreal, and a local sailor, Gerald Blackburn, and his cat, Harriet, can no longer live on his boat alone and all three are looking for a place to live. Due to the financial pressures of home repairs, Olive must invite all three into her home even though Uta is a Hare Krishna, Gerald is a womanizer, and Harriet likes to claw Olive’s Persian and Afghan carpets and furniture. It also sets the neighbours tongues wagging with two single women and one single man under the same roof. However, Olive makes her peace with it because it keeps her, as a homeowner, financially afloat.

Other themes explored in this volume’s stories are health and sanity in “Voices’ about a woman, who sees a young male, subway suicide and then jumps from a roof wearing a dress and heels, ‘Mademoiselle Energy’ one of the most realistic stories I’ve read recently about an locked, observation ward and its schizophrenic residents, and ‘Layla Was Here’ about a repressed female artist whose inspiration comes primarily from the poetic voice in her head. In each of these stories, Lloy is not just an observer. She takes you directly into the minds of her characters in a way that is sensitive and accurate.

Something new in Vita compared to But When We Look Closer is Lloy’s interspersing of short, psychological, horrific vignettes, which sometimes read as prose poems and/or exercises in characterization, in-between some of her ‘longer’ short stories. These include ‘Mama’, ‘Monster’s Laugh’, ‘Underground Thoughts’, ‘Rubber Rage’, ‘Wishful Thinking’, ‘Abode’, ‘Mammaries Speaking’, and ‘Capture’. ‘Mamma’ includes the voices of a teenage and/rebellious son or daughter, and his/her mother, who has emotionally withdrawn. ‘Monster Laugh’ is about a monster in a mirror, who haunts a woman to have plastic surgery and in the end cover her mirror in red velvet. ‘Underground Thoughts’ is about a woman, who is hypersensitive to the sound of another woman snapping gum on the subway and who wants to ‘knock it out of her mouth,’ but is prevented from doing so from a sudden crushing influx of passengers. A departure from Lloy’s human psychological narratives is ‘Capture’, which is about the thoughts of a captured, baby elephant. This last story shows Lloy’s versatility and willingness to experiment. I hope she continues to experiment with narrative techniques and subjects in future stories and books.

Jennifer Clark’s A Beginner’s Guide to Heaven includes poems in different meters, lines lengths and subjects all of which wrestle with the theme of the real boundaries between the corporal and spiritual and the very small and the very large. Its approach can be seen most clearly in her poem, ‘If You Could Stand on Saturn’:

A speck of light we are
A smudge of brilliance
Amidst ever expanding darkness

This poem reminds me of William Blake’s ‘To See a World in a Grain of Sand.’ Only in Clark’s poem, our 21st-century, non-sustainable, earth-bound civilization is that grain of sand, as seen from Saturn, a ‘not yet even a blue marble’.

A Beginner’s Guide to Heaven is divided into three parts: ‘In the Beginning’, ‘The Holy Family’, and ‘In the Meantime’ with inter-related themes that bridge these physical divisions. In the first section, Clark sometimes confuses the natural with the human world such as in her poem ‘A Field Guide to Crows and Widows’. This poem compares crows to women who can or who had to live without men. Clark warns of the damage widows could cause if they ever flocked together, like crows. In ‘Like the Parents They Never Knew’ Clark reports the mating habits of an unspecified arthropod, her sensuous description, seeming to bridge for a moment, the difference in mating between the two worlds:

The moment his feet touch her silk
She shudders and shudders, feels her weight
Three times his size, she is golden, her abdomen
can hold a thousand eggs. He shudders.

Clark reveals some of the mystery and the fierce beauty of the natural world in this poem. In its last stanza she describes the male’s death, offering up his life, after the impregnation, for the future of his progeny and species.

The first section also contains poems about the speaker’s youthful Catholicism including the nuns with their strict discipline in contrast to a forgiving, living Christ riding the breasts in ‘Fourth Grade Place Settings’. In ‘Grieving the God of My Youth’ Clark depicts the parishioners struggle with the Vatican II replacement of a dead, crucified Christ up front versus a representation of the living, risen, Christ: ‘A piece of art, it makes you think’ (the speaker’s mother’s words) brought by the new priest, that is taken down and again replaced by the crucified Christ: ‘eyes-closed-can’t-hold-you-now-I’m-busy dying Jesus’ once the new priest retired. In ‘On Good Friday, Walmart Wants to Save You’ in the section three, shopping for bargains is described as America’s new religion due to superstore’s abundant variety and slogans such as ‘More Easter for your Money’ and ‘Live better’.

In section two, Clark addresses subjects such as Alzheimer’s, ‘Zombie Mommy’, mothers-in-law and their antagonism, and other domestic problems including families and our unfortunate genetic inheritance such as skin problems in ‘Psoriasis Siren’. ‘I Want A Church’ in section three uses metaphors of a boat for a church and sailors for priests, brave enough to step onto dry land and ‘chisel watery souls with love.’

Life specific to the Midwest is also covered by some poems in the first two sections. For example, Clark’s explanation of which part of the ‘hand’ of Michigan where she grew up is described in ‘A Concise History of Michigan Cartology.’ Homeless or lost people are also described in ‘Cotton Candy Lady, Corner of Fifth and Wood.’ ‘The Trouble with Reading in Your Hometown’ describes the advantage and disadvantage of small towns where ‘everyone knows your business’. And driving during the harsh, changeable weather is described in ‘Winter Kudzu of Kalamazoo’.

References to popular culture and its influence on Clark are made in ‘Castaways’ (Gilligan’s Island), and in ‘Longing for Dynamite Days’, (Road Runner and Tweetie Bird comics). The American obsession with materialism and holding onto things is discussed with wit and humour in ‘What We Do With Our Stuff’ along with what her mother-in-law saved from her partner’s childhood years in ‘Lists’. The subject of space is also addressed from a radically different perspective in Clark’s concrete poem, ‘How to Become a Virgin, which is in the shape of a woman’s pregnant belly. Here the poet affirms that anyone can conceive something great, they just need a ‘space’, no preconceptions, a source of impregnation or ‘irritation’, to be ‘patient’ and the foreknowledge that what they bear will not make them ‘lucky’.

‘Oberon, Rock of the Ground Where Sleepers Be’ is a nod to Shakespeare and to a Michigan beer that’s sold seasonally and signals the return of spring in a part of the country that can be snowed under anytime from October to April. It joyfully affirms: ‘We’ve survived another winter. We’ve survived each other.’ This makes a good ending for this collection of poems about faith, courage and hard-won happiness from America’s Midwest, familiar territory presented from a new perspective. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ25 Summer 2019 Art Review

Bryan R. Monte
AQ25 Summer 2019 Art Review

Maria Lassnig — Ways of Being, Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, 6 April to 11 August 2019.

I was pleased but somewhat perturbed to make my first acquaintance with the work of painter, sculpture, and animator Maria Lassnig at the Amsterdam Stedelijk retrospective April last. I was pleased by the depth and artistry of the work on display. I was perturbed that I had not heard of her previously.

Stedelijk curator Beatrice von Bormann helped explain at the press viewing why perhaps I hadn’t previously heard of Lassnig. The Stedelijk only owns two of her works and Lassnig had had only one show there, back in the 1990s. In addition, Bormann put the difficulty of being a female artist in context by quoting the statistics that in the US museums, 87% of the artists are male and 85% are white. Furthermore, according to artist Jacqueline de Jong, quoted in an article entitled: ‘Onsporen en verdraaien’ in the VPRO Gids #22 (1 to 7 June 2019), only four per cent of the Amsterdam Stedelijk’s collection is by female artists.

Despite this level of discrimination, however, Lassnig during her lifetime produced a large body of work, represented in this retrospective by 250 pieces including 80 works on paper and eight videos/films/animations, many on loan from the Albertina Museum in Vienna. Lassnig called her style or technique ‘body awareness’ which to this reviewer appears in her portraits as more of an ‘out of body experience’ as her torso floats above the New York City skyline in Woman Power, (oil on canvas, 1979). Other disembodied images including one of the exhibition’s promotional images, a painting of a woman with a white face with no hair and the back of the head missing such as in Selbst met Mehrschweinchen, Eng: Self with Guinea Pig, (oil on canvas, 2000). These facial images are chillingly reminiscent of the recent Sophia AI interface created by a Hong Kong technology firm.

From these paintings there’s no mistaking Lassnig’s message and her realization of the difficulty of her struggle. If one enters the exhibit at gallery 1.1 at the end of her career, instead of at gallery 1.15, at the beginning, the first image one is confronted with is that of Lassnig with a gun in each hand: one pointed directly at the viewer and the other pointed at her own head entitled Du oder ich, Eng: You or me, (oil on canvas, 2005). According to Bormann, the exhibition has been organized in reverse chronologically, and thematically. One starts here in the 2000s and works one’s way back through time, room by room, to the 1940s, when Lassnig began painting.

However, if one begins at 1.15 with her paintings in the 40s and 50s, it is easier to see Lassnig’s development and what she achieved during her sixty-five year engagement/struggle with painting, sculpture and animation/film. Her work in galleries 1.15 and 1.16 includes paintings with cubist blocks Flachenteilung, klein, Eng: Field Divison, small, (gouache on cardboard, 1953), and abstract strokes of colour next to or on top of each other such as the rectangular white with green centre Body Housing (oil on canvas, 1951) and orange and ochre rectangular brushstrokes of Tachismus 4 (oil on canvas, 1958). These rooms exhibit her exploration of cubism, expressionism, and abstract expressionism.

In the ’60s and ’70s, she would later abandon these non-human styles for her own more realistic, but somewhat disembodied ‘body awareness’ technique in which she would paint her body with a variety of quite realistic but dramatic physical complications, for example, Zelfportrait mit telefon, (oil on canvas, 1973), with her head at table height, the phone off the hook and the cord wrapped around her neck.

In this period Lassnig also created a series of animations and films. These provide some comic relief in this otherwise very serious exhibition. One animation is entitled Self-Portrait (1971). It begins with a woman’s face obscured by dresser drawers, which then fill and drip with foam. Next, her face is obscured briefly by a wooden beam, then a camera, and after that by a device that covers just her mouth, nose and eyes. Finally, her face is freed from these blockages and she begins to imagine herself as a more beautiful and idealized film star, first with her hair up like Audrey Hepburn’s, and then in waves like Marilyn Monroe’s until a Monty Pythonesque fist and a thumb comes down from above and pushes this idealized face back into a more realistic representation of Lassnig.

In the mid to late-1970s, Lassnig also painted partial, disembodied imaginary self-portraits, one with her body entangled by the mythic snake Woman Laocoön, (oil on canvas, 1976) similar in style to the Vatican’s Laocoon and his Sons sculpture. However, unlike the Vatican’s work, Lassnig’s female figure in the painting battles alone with the serpent. Other portraits in this time period include a move into disembodied torsos, including one with a hand covering a vagina and another with a head, with its mouth wide open, shouting, with hands coming from the back of its head covering its eyes Ohne Titel, Schreiende Frau, Eng: Untitled, Screaming Woman, (pencil and watercolours on paper, 1981).

Another method she used to depict her struggle as a woman artist was to paint human forms trapped between different planes such as in With My Head Through the Wall, (oil on canvas, 1985). In the ’80s she would also paint anti-militaristic subjects such as Rocket Base Missiles #2 (oil on canvas, 1987) and Atommütters (oil on canvas, 1984), with two women holding small, dead children wrapped in black shrouds in their arms. In the early 21st century she would continue to create such confrontational paintings such as Profitanski (oil on canvas, 2001) which includes images of green birds laddled into her head and her hand over her vagina and the Du oder ich painting mentioned previously.

Time will tell if Lassnig’s struggle will yield more female artists’ works in the Amsterdam Stedelijk’s collection. If Touria Meliani’s, Amsterdam city councillor for the arts, comments about Reins Wolf, recently appointmented as the Stedelijk’s new director, in a Stedelijk press release from 7 June 2019 are any indication: … heb ik alle vertrouwen in dat met hem de verschillende verhalen die nodig verteld moeten worden, een plek krijgen. (‘I completely trust that with him, the different stories that must be told, will receive a place.’), perhaps an increase in the percentage of women’s works at the Stedelijk is finally on the cards. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ24 Spring 2019 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ24 Spring 2019 Book Reviews

Jean Huets, With Walt Whitman: Himself, Circling Rivers, ISBN 978-1-939530-06-6, 192 pages.
Scott T. Starbuck, Carbonfish Blues: Ecopoems, (with art by Guy Denning), Fomite, ISBN 978-1-944388-53-9, 93 pages.
Jacob M. Appel, Amazing Things Are Happening Here, Black Lawrence Press, ISBN 978-1-625577-05-4, 152 pages.

These past six months I have received some interesting books from publishers concerned with three different subjects — a Walt Whitman documentary biography, a book on ecological poems with paintings of war and climate refugees, and a collection of short stories, which are strangely and memorably linked to each other due to their images and themes. These books are extraordinary due to their new treatment of old subject matter, their manner of presentation, or their ability to capture and hold one’s interest. Two of the three use visual media such as paintings, photographs and reproductions of historical documents to reinforce their points. The third’s fiction writing style is so explicit, its characters and images that will remain with you long after you have put the book down.

The first book is Jean Huets’ With Walt Whitman: Himself from Circling Rivers. This book is a beautiful, multi-media documentary of Whitman’s life and times and includes gems this reviewer was previously unaware even though he thought he knew Whitman’s biography fairly well. Its multi-coloured texts and reproduced images also make it suitable for instruction in secondary and tertiary schools. These gems include a reproduction of a draft of ‘Live Oak with Moss’ and pages from his journals. One early 1860s journal entry includes a sketch of a soldiers’ hospital ward, the location of the men’s beds and also list of some of the men’s requests for reading material or for contact with clergy.

Having read over a dozen books about Whitman and his written works, this is the first book I’ve seen which adequately describes Whitman’s immediate family and his ancestors, their influence on his life, and his parents’ and siblings’ response to his writing. (For example, Whitman moved away from New York at least twice in his life to be with family in St. Louis, Missouri and in Camden, New Jersey). The book also provides an interesting selection of paintings, drawings and photographs of the places Whitman worked, lived and frequented and also of Whitman and his friends and associates. This includes paintings of then rural Long Island, where Whitman’s father tried twice unsuccessfully to farm.

Walt Whitman: Himself also explores Whitman’s participation in literary circles and their New York hangouts and patrons such ‘Pfaff’s Chop House and Beer Cellar’ and ‘Henry Clapp’, who ran ‘the weekly literary magazine Saturday Press’. The book also mentions Whitman’s early artistic supporters such as Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta and Anne Gilchrist. It also mentions Whitman’s attendance at musical and theatrical performances in New York influenced his work, with specific references to his poetry.

Colour plates, paintings, drawings and photographs are beautifully reproduced and take up a significant portion of the book’s pages making it suitable for use in secondary and community college settings, although I suspect many scholars will also appreciate many of the documents, paintings or photographs Huets has assembled in With Walt Whitman: Himself.

The second book is Carbonfish Blues: Ecopoems by Scott T. Starbuck with artwork by Guy Denning. His book includes poetic observations of sequoias and spruces which live hundreds of years longer than humans, displaced Pacific Islanders who remember the ease of their ancestors, how rising sea levels will effect the world map and species, and the deaths of boat refugees. As he cleans a bluefin he’s caught in ‘Breadfruit’ he meditates on the four things that human beings really need to do to survive: ‘eat, mate, avoid predators, / three ways to give Thanks / to the Source of all.’ Thanks.

Opposite ‘Breadfruit’ is one of Denning’s 12 artworks. This one of a face in blue grey colours with an open, downturned mouth entitled Requiem 2 (for the now forgotten) and another face, Opposite Starbuck’s poem ‘One Raven’, about the Sitka Spruce’s more expansive sense of time, is a copper, brown face with eyes open looking out towards the reader on in a background of what appears to be books and newspapers. Denning’s art underscores the importance of Starbuck’s warnings about the destruction ahead due to global warming. In ‘Climate Reality’ Starbuck places the blame for global warming on schools and employers who: ‘said / if you followed the rules / you would be okay. …. The truth is …. they lied.’ ‘Rosetta Poem’ emphasizes mankind’s and Nature’s common ancestor. Starbuck reflects: ‘is it possible distorted language / has been (the) real enemy / all along?’In the next two poems, ‘Titanic Radio and the book’s title poem, ‘Carbonfish Blues’, Starbuck compares the sinking of the Titanic and the drowning of its passengers, especially those in ‘2nd and 3rd class’, to what will happen to those people (the poor) for whom no ‘lifeboats’ were even planned and others like Esther Hart, who stayed up all night fully dressed, ‘ready in a way / none can be for abrupt climate change’.

Immediately after these poems follows a double page spread of Denning’s The disasters of war 11 showing a woman holding a child on the left looking upward, and a man holding a child and a woman on the right looking downward. The words GRACIAS and MUSEO DEL PRADO appear printed vertically just to the left of both women. The artwork is reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War. However, it could also reflect the apocalyptic world soon to come if climate change is not halted. In a very short poem, ‘Soon’, Starbuck relates how dear things will soon become: ‘salmon cans will be opened like rubies. / Oranges will be as rare a diamonds.’

Starbuck’s poems also discuss the floating plastic waste in the world’s waters ‘Floating Plastic Jesus’, the endangerment and extinction of species in the last century ‘Warrior’s Story of The Last Wild Otter’ and ‘Invader’, and the price, according to Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan ‘per person per year in the top one billion people’ to save billions of people from death by heat, is ‘$450’. His dire poetic descriptions of habitat destruction due to over-harvesting, fishing and hunting, pollution and global warming are placed beside Denning’s artworks that depict warzone/ climate refugees or the faces of the dispossessed, such as in Denning’s sketch on a grey background of an expressionless face entitled Your opinion is worthless. Is our opinion and action worthless when it comes to global warming? Starbuck’s poem ‘Stepford Congress’ is ‘bought / by oil companies, / and dying / with them.’ doesn’t seem to show much optimism. In ‘Observer Post 9’ he imagines Earth’s epitaph written by an alien civilization. Students there ask their professor if the reasons humans drove every week to ‘‘poison stations’ / with many other options’ were “Convenience?” and “Insanity?” Their professor unfortunately answers: ‘“Yes and yes”’.

The last book is Jacob M. Appel’s Amazing Things Are Happening Here, his ninth book of short stories and his fifth with Black Lawrence Press. This collection of stories, with their snap endings, are set on the East Coast in Appel’s favourite fictional town of Creve Coeur, Rhode Island, in Manhattan or in Florida. One of his returning character types is the shy, male protagonists in ‘Canvassing’ and ‘Embers’, who despite their goodness and devotion, do not get the gal, and, in the first story, is also not as nice and as patient as he seems.

One thing that I find also enjoyable in short story collections are stories which are connected with each other thematically over time. Passion rules the day. The heart knows what the heart wants — and in the case of three female protagonists in ‘Canvassing’, ‘Grappling’, and ‘Live Shells’ — the heart wants bad boys. It isn’t interested in the logical suitors with steady jobs, from the right side of the tracks. It wants passionate and/or burly men from the wrong part of town.

Three stories with plot lines that for me are departures from Appel’s previous subject matter include ‘Helen of Sparta’, ‘Amazing Things Are Happening Here’, and ‘Dyad’. The first story involves the black sheep of a family returning drunk to her old high school to visit her old drama teacher, (long deceased), who almost gets herself and her nephews arrested for entering without permission. In ‘Amazing Things are Happening Here’, the collection’s title story, the head nurse at a Manhattan psychiatric hospital covers the disappearance of a patient for weeks by falsifying his file with fictional meds, treatments, consultations and ultimately a discharge. The story’s tension is due to the fact that someone, probably the narrator, will lose his/her job if the patient isn’t found, so that the falsification of the discharge is preferable to revealing the truth. And in ‘Dyad’, a childless, female ocean park ranger, contemplates leaving her husband for a French oceanographer and his eighth-year-old daughter, as they both urge the ranger to use her boat to keep some whales from stranding. She changes her mind, however, when one of the whales they had ‘saved’, suddenly and unexpectedly beaches itself anyway.

My criticism of this collection includes the following observations. ‘Bigamist’s Accomplice’ has a storyline I’ve read before in at least one other writer’s fiction work. A man and woman, who have Alzheimer’s, find each other in a senior home and their real partners decide to let them have each other (a rabbi even performs a fake wedding) because their partners with memory loss no longer recognize them and they realize these partners will be happier together.

My second criticism would be that some of the narrator’s vocabulary in ‘Live Shells’ occasionally seems not to be her own such as when she mentions ‘ersatz windmills’ and ‘inertia.’ Perhaps, however, I’m being unfair to working class, shop-operating, triple divorcees. Lastly, in ‘Grappling’, Jeb Moran, this story’s 1920s bad boy, who has spent time in the state penitentiary, uses the ‘N’ word once when reporting from whom he had won money through gambling and cockfights.

These reservations aside, however, Appel’s collection of short stories, brings to life the lives of American bad boys — gator wrestlers, machinists, murderers, bigots, and even a homicidal teenage wallflower — and the women who have been attracted to them or who have failed to notice their dangerous presence. Appel’s stories in Amazing Things Are Happening Here create a world where unfortunately, fabricating the truth, is often preferable and less complicated than telling the truth or facing it.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ23 Autumn 2018 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ23 Autumn 2018 Book Reviews

Jennifer Clark, Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman, Shabda Press, ISBN 978-81-930523-2-7, 2018, 139 pages.
Jayne Marek, The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling, Finishing Line Press, ISBN 978-1-63534-363-2, 2018, 67 pages.

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is certainly a worthy adage to keep one for being deceived by surface appearances that cover underlying flaws. However, sometimes a good book does have an equally good, appealing cover. This is certainly true of Jennifer’s Clark’s Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman, a poetic history of John Chapman and Jayne Marek’s The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling. Both books’ covers feature trees, but these are depicted in ways perhaps not seen before. Clark’s book’s front cover illustration, ‘Colony Farm Orchard Script’ by Ladislav Hanka, is a ‘drawing over hand-tinted paper’ of tree branches reaching upward on a tan, almost light, leather-coloured background. Marek’s front cover (see her photos in the summer 2018 AQ22 issue) includes darker, dense almost thin, vertical brown blocks on a green and blue background reaching up towards a yellow, pink and white speckled light. Both covers include organic growth reaching upwards. And this is what the poems in their books do. They are poetic journeys toward light and growth.

Clark’s book is an exploration of Chapman’s ancestry, his own history, including his travels through the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana wilderness to plant apples trees for future settlers and even some details about arboreal husbandry. It begins with a ‘Prologue: come with me into the forest,’ in which describes Clark’s motivation and inspiration for writing her book which began with Clark’s then third-grade son asking her: ‘Was he real?’ Clark’s uncertainty about the answer leads her on her own journey of discovery. Her son’s question was further piqued by Clark’s chance find of a book about American folklore, which she later purchased at her local library. She then sifted through this ‘treasure of both truth and historical inaccuracies.’ After reading it, Clark remarked: ‘Even during Chapman’s lifetime, he was already turning into a walking myth’.

For example, Clark found evidence that contradicts the myth that Chapman was a teetotaller and vegetarian. And while she didn’t find direct evidence that Chapman was an abolitionist, his personality, Swedenborgian beliefs, habit of frequenting pioneer homes (including some, which were Quaker), and the conversations she had with Denver Norman, (descendant of the former slave, Mr “Cajoe” Phillips), all lead her to conclude Chapman was, at the very least, an abolitionist at heart. She ends her prologue hoping her poems will help ‘part the forest of time’ to enter a world that is ‘young and old, terrible and beautiful, bountiful and dying, all at once.’

The uplift of Clark’s poems begins with the first phrase of the first line of her first poem, ‘John Chapman (1774-1845)’ with a poem that could be a prologue for the entire collection. ‘To sow hope,’ and his simplicity of his mythic attire and purpose: ‘slip into a burlap sack….With a tin pot/ on head for hat, set bare feet to soil and go forth/ into the wild frontier.’ The poem further describes Chapman’s travel method, ‘following the rivers’ West in his ‘Search for a clearing in the woods’ and ‘Stoop, then furrow soil with a finger, …pull seeds…and one by one press down. Cover lightly with loam.’ The poem also describes Chapman’s diet of ‘cornmeal mush and coffee’ and how he slept ‘on the forest floor.’ It also mentions how he …‘Return(ed) each year to tend the saplings,’ and continued along the Maumee River, ‘leaving a trail or thirsty pioneers, drunk now/on the sweet juice of sermon.’

The following poem ‘Grafting has always been in fashion’ emphasizes Chapman’s preferred mode of planting apple trees from seed instead of the traditional method of ‘grafted shoots/dragging with them the seeds/of old Empire.’ Clark writes how Chapman’s mother delivered him whilst his father fought in the Revolutionary War and then died a year later delivering her third child, which also died.

Further poems discuss Chapman’s “marriage” ‘John meets a woman’, his abolitionism, the Underground Railroad, including one of its conductors, ‘Micajah “Cajoe” Phillips 1736?-1861’, and the voice of one of its enemies, ‘Ten dollars for my woman Siby’. Chapman’s mistake of planting Stinking Chamomile to ‘keep malaria at bay’ is mentioned in ‘Anathemus cotula aka Stinking Chamomile’, as is the extinction of native birds during his lifetime for food and fashion in ‘Wings, The Breast, The Bird’, and ‘Common Tern, 21. Scarlet Tanger, 2.’ respectively. In her poem ‘Ledgers from dry goods stores’ Clark offers a brief glimpse of the real Chapman found preserved in one of his grocery lists: ‘three pairs of “mockasins,”/brandy, whiskey, chocolate,/ sugar, gunpowder, tobacco,/ and pork.’. Through her research, Clark separates the myth from the man, but she also gives readers a good glimpse of both.

Appropriately for this issue on genealogy, Clark’s poems focus not only on John Chapman, but also his relatives. ‘Summer of 1776’ mentions his mother, Elizabeth, near death and his father, Nathaniel, away fighting in the Revolutionary War. Nathaniel is also mentioned later as a tenant farmer in ‘One Tree Orchard’ and he later moves with the rest of the family from Longmeadow, Massachusetts to Marietta, Ohio. Chapman’s visit to his youngest sister, Sally and her husband, John Whitney to their Washington County, Ohio farm is mentioned in ‘Every Strike We are Hewn’. But it is Chapman’s sister Persis and her husband William Broome mentioned in ‘Persis Waiting’, who provided the most support for Chapman’s apple planting. According to Clark, in her well-researched reader’s notes, the Broome’s ‘probably served as an ever-moving base for her brother’s seed operation’. Clark quotes that ‘Robert Morgan notes…(Chapman) employed his brother-in-law to help with the nurseries…the couple moved to Perrysville and Mansfield, Ohio’ … (and that) When around 1834, John expanded into Indiana, Persis and William Broome followed’.

As mentioned above, I found Clark’s historical notes and the illustrations she includes just as interesting as her poems. Her book’s illustrations include sketches of John Chapman from 19th century magazines. There are also maps of the US indicating how far one could travel in a day, of the Underground railroad, of Mount Vernon, Ohio near which Chapman owned land and planted trees, and of the spread of the invasive stink week mentioned above. In addition are illustrations on grafting, a women’s hat decorated with with stuffed birds, the Blennerhassett Mansion, as well as historical photos of Deborah and Enoch Harris, Rosella Rice and the 5 cent US first class Johnny Appleseed commemorative stamp issued in 1966 (a treasure in my own boyscout stamp collection). Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman is surely a treasure-trove of information for poets, teachers, historians, etc., and could be used in primary to tertiary schools to teach how history is transformed into folklore and then into art.

Jayne Marek’s The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling, is another outstanding book worthy of mention in these pages. Marek, both a writer and a graphic artist, whose photographic work was featured in the AQ22 this past summer, brings these skills together to create a memorable poetry book. Its fifty-four poems are divided into three sections: ‘Just Out of Reach’, ‘Pacific Rim’, and ‘Of Grace’.

The first section is devoted to grief, loss and regret. The first poem entitled ‘Prognosis’ sets the tone for the rest of the book: ‘Raking and raking/ But the long tines cannot gather up grief/ That waits beyond the fence.’ This physical intervention is not enough to keep the natural world and death at bay. In the next stanza, Marek remarks: ‘Grief is like fear/Seen from another direction. The two hunch over,/ stare like stone monsters guarding a stoop.’ In the next poem, ‘Mistakes’, we see how hard the narrator is on herself regarding loss: ‘I’m unable to do over and find shelter.’ In the prose poem, ‘Drowned Mole’, she describes the discovery and removal of a dead mole from her garden. It is with regret that she moves and discards something so beautiful: ‘your fur sleek as a rich matron’s coat on opening night,…Forgive this stick that lifts at your ribs and hips.’ She meditates further on the meaning of life when she describes a jellyfish in a tank,

as if drifting meant nothing indecision
a turn in darkness toward an inaccessible shape
the purpose of lives mine

In ‘Fable’ Marek declares that her poems are not for those ‘who pine for a story that says life is simple/as this scalped green yard’. This poem describes how she sees two birds attacking a third bird as she drives by and wonders if she should intervene. ‘Clay’ is about a potter who dunks her fired pots in the same creek from which Walter, whom she identifies from a silver burn scar on his neck, … ‘is pulled… in the spring.’ ‘Deepest Snow’ is divided into two sections which takes its title from a line by Naomi Shihab Nye: ‘That was the deepest I ever went into the snow.’ Its first section is about the narrator being unexpectedly buried in snow up to her neck after losing her balance from a Norwegian ski path. The second uses ‘Flying snow’ to describe dementia ‘everything slippery and grayish white—’. There are many poems with malevolent winter scenes in this section in which glass shatters from the cold, ‘Cut Glass’ and snow hides tracks and seeds in ‘Winter Ruins’. In ‘So Late Winter’ it finally relents ‘two weeks into spring’ when a child lies in a closed casket. In ‘Elegiac Unsonnet for My Cat’ the poet writes of her cat “lost in the cold of winter, at the foot of a renewed/ Year, in a collapse of snow”. In ‘Would the Good People Please Stop Dying’ she describes the dangerous drive down a barely-visible, ice-and-mist covered road just before dawn.

The second section, ‘Pacific Rim’, is about the poet’s spiritual journey and observations in Asia, especially in Japan, India and China. The first poem, ‘Hands in Temple Smoke’ begins with a sort of purification ritual in an old wooden temple right ‘tucked between concrete walls’ where urban school children and uniforms and gray bicycle riders pass by. She observes how a woman in the temple: ‘reaches into the bitter wisps / of silver and white, waves them / toward her face, her heart’. In ‘Buddha Touch’, the poet enters seeks spiritural contact in the temple. ‘Panda Mania’ describes the ‘sweet smell’ of panda pancakes at the zoo (and all the surrounding merchandising of panda shoes, bags, etc.), which intrudes into the temple. In ‘The Woodturner’s Shop, Itsukushima’, the poet buys a small bowl from a traditional craftsperson. It is the first in a series of craftsperson poems others being ‘Nishijin Textile Center’ about the making of kimonos, ‘Grass Writing’ about traditional, carved Japanese script and landscapes, and ‘The Art of Teeth’ about traditional masks on display in a Tokyo museum.

With the poem, ‘Postcard from Assam’ the poet continues on her Asian travels in India’s Northeast. Here the poet comments on the ‘heat…in the morning dust,’ the ‘orange clouds in endless scarves/ too long to wrap up.’ She describes herself and her fellow travellers as “pale foreigners’ and as plants ‘who need water’ and who need to be ‘Lift(ed)…over the plains, over the spice plants for which the airliners of our escape are named—’. In ‘Lotus Eaters’ she’s in the Punjab; in ‘Her Feet’ at Mother Theresa’s tomb in India. The last four poems in this section, describe her experience and observations of a Ming section of the Great Wall, a ‘Carp Mobile’, ‘Kite-Flyers’, ‘A Coal Spill, Yunnan’, and looking at the flora and fauna in ‘Blue on Cang Shan’. The poet’s attention to detail helps the reader zoom into unforgettable details in each location. The last poem in this section about the mountain is especially poignant due to its description of details both small and large: the shadows created by butterfly wings and ‘a cable car ride / that swung over green/ windy-pine fingers’ and the ineffable: ‘thin air/ scraped by clouds.’

The last section of Marek’s book, ‘Of Grace’ details her removal to the West Coast after a teaching career in the Midwest. She writes about the island ferry, ocean waves, the emptying out of her former home. In ‘Woods Path’ in the Northwest, far from her former life, the poet asks: ‘what is best, what is death, what matters?’ Then by a ‘fallen trunk,’ the poet sees ‘the hollow under its feet filled with mud.’ — perhaps a meditation on ‘from dust to dust’.

Further poems in this section of special interest to this reviewer include ‘Sweet Spots for Owls’ with its syllabic count which captures the bird’s pauses and bursts of energy and which imitate the flow of the poet’s thoughts. ‘Of Grace’, the third section’s title poem describes the regeneration the poet feels as the natural world reaches out to her. In ‘I Miss My Life in Another Dimension’ the poet is transported back in her imagination to a house and a neighbourhood in the Midwest where she’d lived and taught for years. Here, the speaker talks about the house’s familiar ‘scuff marks at the doorway’, its ‘old oak trees in the yard…Deep-rooted in the black farmland earth.’ It was a house with ‘frequent gatherings…Of artists, friends, professors, students…who read my books, have my art photos mounted.’ ‘Of Grace’s’ intimate details show poet’s painful separation from what’s left behind as she moves forward in a new place, ‘six hundred miles from here.’

The title and final poem of the entire collection brings the book’s themes together. The tree surgeon as the poet, has feet planted: ‘one on a limb’. The natural world has its own character and power with a ‘tree-hand…(and) twigs with five leaf fingers…(that)slap…when I lift / the cutting tool and let it bite.’ These branches force the tree surgeon to hold his chainsaw back as if he were ‘standing / at the line, one arm cocked and heavy/gripping my favorite bowling ball.’ His swaying movement in the tree personifying the poet’s thoughts perhaps about the sometimes dangerous reductive art of poetry ‘going nowhere but cutting away/things I wish I didn’t need.’

I highly recommend both of these books due to their artistry, both poetic and visual, and due to their regenerative themes. I’m sure they will keep your lamp of inspiration burning during the shorter days and longer autumn and winter nights ahead. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ22 Summer 2018 Art Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ22 Summer 2018 Art Reviews

Günther Förg, a Fragile Beauty, Amsterdam Stedelijke Museum, 24 May to 14 October 2018
Wayne Thiebaud, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, 10 June to 16 September 2018.

It was if the gods themselves were listening when I chose Texture as the theme for AQ’s 2018 summer issue. Amsterdam’s Stedelijk and Wassenaar’s Museum Voorlinden have both recently opened retrospective exhibitions by artists, whose primary focus is texture: the Stedelijk featuring work by Günther Förg and the Voorlinden, work by Wayne Thiebaud. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches for texture art devotees.

How the view changed

The Stedelijk’s Günther Förg, a Fragile Beauty, runs through 14 October 2018. The Stedelijk’s collection, the largest in world, curated by Veit Loers, includes work from his entire oeuvre including a variety of mediums such sculptures and photographs, and materials such as bronze, lead and plaster in addition to more traditional paintings on canvas. The exhibition is organized thematically, starting with a gallery of black and white photos of Bauhaus buildings. Most of these photos are of exteriors, but a few are of interiors, taken through the regularly-ordered blocks of the window frames. It’s this raamwerk leitmotif that is used by Loers throughout the exhibition to provide thematic unity. It is also reinforced by a series of four framed photographs entitled Wall Painting, Vienna Succession, 1990. These include four slightly different landscape views from windows in a house in which the exterior is dark forcing the viewer to look outwards.

A second unifying element or motif is, of course, colour. Some of Förg’s paintings are in fact wall-sized panels of single colours that were originally viewed singly or placed next to each other for contrast. This contrast is even more apparent in a gallery filled with dozens of paintings, which have two or more contrasting colour panels on one canvas but which frequently share a common, grey underlayer. Many of these paintings remind me of Abtract Expressionist Mark Rothko’s horizontal bar paintings where two or more bars create a tension and a unity with each other based upon their surface and underlying colours.

As the visitor continues from one gallery to the next in this exhibition, the window motif begins to morph from a cross-hatch to more of a cross motif and it is combined on canvases with the colour tensions. One gallery, the fourth or so from the beginning contains a collection of nothing but crosshatches on somewhat monochromatic backgrounds. These cross motif and colour tensions are exploited later in what seems like landscape paintings. This two elements come together in Förg’s, Untitled, 1995 in which light green, light, earth-tone orange and white are mixed together with brown, fence-like crosses. It’s a painting that reminds one of Piet Mondriaan’s Impressionistic, Zealand seascapes with tidal barriers from the late 1910s.

Some of the best and darkest pieces in this exhibition are towards the end. In the same a gallery as Untitled, 1995, are a series of dark, hung, large, canvas-sized bronzes. These bronzes include three works with large, deep slashes (all Untitled, 1988) and two with seemingly semi-buried, fossil-like shelled creatures (both Untitled, 1990). A smaller gallery on the right, which dead-ends, includes work from the 1970s and 1990s. This gallery includes one dark brown, almost monochromatic painted canvas, (Untitled, 1974), which, in this reviewer’s opinion, seems to include ghostly torsos looking outwards in a layer just under the surface.

Beyond this gallery and the next is a collection of Förg’s photographs including close-ups of women reminiscent of 1950s glamour photos and a photo of a young man sprawled at the bottom of a staircase either from a fall or another reason from a true crime magazine. These noir images while interesting (as are the photos of ancient mosaics and modern architecture from Italy from a few galleries before) seem, however, to detract from overall trajectory of Förg’s art.

In contrast to the gallery with the dark, hanging bronzes, is the last, very large gallery with what seem like giant, jagged, up-and-down, trial, pastel-coloured pencil markings on white canvases Untitled 2007 and 2008 and mixed-media, untitled white plaster sculptures from 2001. His mixed media white plaster sculptures include objects such as a blue torch or photographer’s flash, white and green plastic bottles, and a fluorescent lamp and copper wiring. These pieces are in stark contrast from the work that has preceded it and obviously an attempt by the artist, in the last decade of his life, to continue to re-invent himself. Perhaps if Förg had lived longer, these new, wall-size practice palettes and smaller, playful plaster sculptures might have enabled him to continue to create work in new directions.

Have your cake and eat it too?

Wayne Thiebaud’s mouth-watering pie slices, cakes, sundaes and donuts are known to almost any Art 101 college student. He is probably the most famous, living American artist and the reason this writer travelled from his usual Amsterdam museum beat to Wassenaar’s Museum Voorlinden to see and interview the great man on the opening of his first European retrospective. Unfortunately, due to an illness and his advanced age (97) Thiebaud didn’t make it to his opening, but museum director Suzanne Swarts ensured that the show went on, providing rolling commentary for the press as she took them through the Voorlinden’s galleries featuring Thiebaud’s work.

Museum Voorlinden has collected approximately 60 of Thiebaud’s works from the 1960s to the present from both public and private collections. The exhibition is curated in such a way that it fortunately seems to answer some of the questions I was going to ask the artist himself. For example, one of my questions was: ‘The room reflections in Two Paint Cans (1987) reminds me of the reflections in silver, glass, and mirrors in some 17th century Dutch still lifes and interior paintings. Were you consciously aware of this tradition as you painted these objects?’

This seemed to be immediately answered in the first gallery where Two Paint Cans (1987) hangs just to the right of Robed Woman with Letter, (1976-2013), who has the same facial gesture (albeit from the front) of bracing herself for bad news as does the woman evocative of Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1663-64). So right from the beginning, this exhibition places Thiebaud’s oeuvre firmly in the realm of high-art, although Thiebaud insists, as Swarts reminded the press, of calling himself a painter and not an artist. Another unifying technique in the same gallery that is used to present Thiebaud’s work, is chromaticism. At the opposite end of the gallery are two paintings that use similar green colours. The first is Green Dress (1966-2017) of a seated woman in a green dress and the other is White Shoe (1995), the title shoe painted on a green glass table. On the facing wall between these two sets of paintings are paintings of a lipstick (Lipstick, 1964), a portrait of a seated man wearing a red tie and a woman wearing a pink dress, red shoes and a red hairbow, both figures arms crossed, looking opposite directions, and their cheeks flushed (Two Seated Figures, 1965), and a candy counter (Peppermint Counter, 1963) with its 5 and 25 cent striped peppermint sticks and its 10 cent, red, candy apples, the unifying colour between of these three paintings being different shades of red. Thiebaud’s people or figures, as he calls them, seem to come straight out of Edward Hopper, but their boredom or anger is painted in the much brighter California light with its blue and green shadows.

It is these paintings of everyday American images that made Thiebaud, one of the first and most original of the Pop Artists (a term he continues to disavow). Unlike Warhol and the other Pop Artists, however, Thiebaud doesn’t appropriate others’ commercial or comic designs or celebrity photographs for his art. Yet, he does paint common objects from everyday American life: for example, platoons of pie and cake slices lined up for sale in a canteen. And he paints these objects the way he sees them and in his own style with thick slathers of paint, similar to icing strokes. This is not realism. It is an artistic reinvention of what’s before him, giving it texture and thus more visual and mouth-watering appeal such as in Pie Counter, 1963 and Cakes and Pies 1994-1995.

If these beautiful, delicious objects and subjects are perhaps too saccharine or tame for some art aficionados, then they may focus their attention on room 5, which contains Thiebaud’s landscapes, especially his cityscapes which are sure to shake them up. These include aerial views of the agricultural Central Valley, near Thiebaud’s home in Sacramento, or the vertiginous cityscapes with people and cars hurtling down rollercoaster hills painted in his San Francisco Potrero Hill studio. Thiebaud’s somewhat naively-painted, Diebenkornesque, rural landscapes have a feel of God looking down on his/her green creation on a good day, one with one tree lit in golden twilight in Reservoir 1999 fit for Blake’s or Swedenborg’s angels. The perspective in these paintings also sometimes folds out in a somewhat M. C. Escheresque manner to create a new area, expanding the painting’s three traditional planes Fall Fields 2017, or to include the mirage of the reflection of lights in a body of water from a city or large factory that isn’t there. In contrast to these pretty rural landscapes are the monstrously hilly San Francisco cityscapes, filled with skyscrapers Intersection Buildings 2000-2014 (which I believe is a composite painting of California Street) roller coaster motorways, empty urban areas under or around the motorways or in construction areas Towards 280, 2000 and steep hills, such Bluff 2013 which seem to only be climbed at your own peril.

These two very different types of landscapes answer another question I had: ‘Do your two contrasting types of rural and urban landscapes express the order, security and perhaps boredom of Thiebaud’s candied-appled, suburban home in Sacramento vs. the artistic exhilaration and intrepidness you felt working in San Francisco? I think the answer to that question is another resounding: ‘Yes’.

A final question I had for Thiebaud which would have probably come at the beginning of the interview after ‘How are you feeling today at your first European respective?’ It would have been: ‘What influence did your southwestern Mormon origins and Southern Californian upbringing have on your painting?’ I think the first obvious answer to this question can be found in Thiebaud’s work ethic: at 97, according to director Swarts, he still paints everyday. It’s also found in his pastel colour palette, the fully lit figures or objects, whether on display or under the California sun, with their blue and green shadows. In addition, it can found in Thiebaud’s humility and his service to others. Even after Thiebaud found fame in the ’60s, he continued to teach and mentor undergraduates out West at college and university rather than surround himself with a coterie of admirers and move back East. Thiebaud’s art has a simplicity to it, in its subjects and its technique, which continues the credo of ‘less is more.’ (Not Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s but Robert Browning’s in ‘Andrea del Sarto’). Thiebaud probably got this from his work in commercial art. It helped him focus on his subjects—at least the human and edible ones—and find the extraordinary in the ordinary, which has made and sustained his long career.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ21 Spring 2018 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ21 Spring 2018 Book Reviews

Jacob M. Appel. Millard Salter’s Last Day. Gallery Books, ISBN 978-1-5072-0408-5, 245 pages.
Arthur Allen. Here birds are. Green Bottle Press, ISBN 978-1-910804-09-4, 27 pages.
Alida Woods. Disturbing Borders. Finishing Line Press, ISBN 978-1-63534-405-9, 29 pages.

It is my privilege, as a reviewer and editor of poetry and fiction, to regularly make the acquaintance of many writers in the early stages of their careers. It is this discovery of new or not-so-completely-established writers that makes the hundreds of hours I put into Amsterdam Quarterly worthwhile. The three writers above (all former AQ contributors which makes me doubly proud, of course) have all, within the last few months, published beautiful, noteworthy books which I’d like to bring to the attention of AQ’s readers.

The first writer, Jacob M. Appel, is now, no longer a stranger to the publishing world. When I first met him almost coincidentally in New York City, in 2014, he had already published a few books, which had won some major awards. In the summer of 2014, I received an email from Appel asking if I’d like to review his books. Unknown to him, I was in Manhattan at that very moment to meet digital artist, Yolanda V. Fundora, (who would later contribute work for three AQ issues and two yearbook covers). As we met at the hotel’s street front café, I saw a young, (approximately twenty-years younger than I am), man wearing a name badge for a New York hospital. He stopped to give me three of his books: a novel, The Biology of Luck, an essay collection, Phoning Home and a short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper. I found him to be intelligent and articulate and I hoped the books he left for review would be the same.

And they were. Since then, Appel’s work has never ceased to surprise and delight me. His fiction, as I have remarked in past issues, reveals the work of a master storyteller. He grabs his audience on the first page and doesn’t let go of them until his intricately constructed plotting mousetrap artfully closes upon its victim on the last page. Millard Salter’s Last Day, is a perfect example of Appel’s fictive technique. It is about the life of a Jewish, New York doctor, a psychiatrist, who on the first page, expresses his desire to kill himself by the end of that day. This is due to the grief he has experienced after the loss of a second wife, whom he dearly loved, and a patient with whom he had a close relationship.

However, almost everything that Salter experiences that day seems to pull him back into the land of the living: a colleague at work, whom he hates, tells him she wants his position at the hospital when he retires. Salter’s first wife reveals that she doesn’t hate him for divorcing her because she was also having an affair and she makes a pass at him. So does a former schoolmate who is in town for more than one (she hopes) reunion. Later the same day, Salter’s luncheon conversation with his son, who, in his forties, has not make a life for himself, is interrupted by a gas explosion across the street which they both survive unscathed (except for a few scorch marks on Salter’s suit), but which seriously wounds the hospital administrator who just minutes before badgered Salter for an overdue report. Even a surprise 75th birthday party at his home, including friends and family, off foot him. Through all these events however, Salter continues his ‘Do I or don’t I’ meditation right to the very end. In the meantime, the reader gets a window into the current state of high-end medical and especially psychiatric care in America, ruled over not by doctors, but by hospital administrators. It is a world that is vividly rendered, where Appel adds one plot complication upon another until the novel’s very last scene. (Please, don’t read ahead, though, or you’ll ruin the ending for yourself).

The way I met the next writer, the poet Arthur Allen, is also fairly coincidental. Six or seven times a year I receive requests from university students enquiring about internships at Amsterdam Quarterly. Unfortunately, I must disappoint these young people with the news that AQ is not a business but rather therapeutic hobby for a disabled older man with multiple sclerosis. One of these students was Arthur Allen. I read through his résumé and wrote him: ‘Unfortunately, I don’t have an internship to offer you, but looking at your CV, I’ll bet you’ve got a few poems for me.’

And he did. He sent two poems, ‘On my father’ and ‘Unresolved harmonies,’ which I immediately knew I wanted to publish in AQ16’s issue on Interiors, Gardens, Landscapes and Music. When he attended the AQ 2016 Yearbook launch party, he read his poems from a journal in a hand with very few strikethroughs or other revisions. If I’ve ever met a natural-born poet, it’s certainly this young man. His chapbook, Here birds are is an excellent exploration of grief and intimacy related to the sudden death of one’s father caused by a hit and run driver. From the very beginning it addresses this grief through a description of how the father was found, ‘on his side, limbs like crushed cowslip flowers / tangled in the bicycle frame,’ to his mother’s unspoken grief witnessed when he was child: ‘She was siting gently / sinking without / sinking.’ In ‘The First Night,’ the poet asks: ‘the cosmos … “Why me?” … and it barely suffers to reply “Why not?”’

Allen continues to look for answers among the birds in the British countryside. In ‘Augury,’ he imagines his father’s body during autopsy as that of a bird’s: ‘gone / in wind, in perdu, insignificantly battered’ how the pathologists ‘opened and pinned a pair of wings… to relieve rigor mortis’ The poet’s loss of his father is further mentioned in the extended avian metaphor because ‘I do not know “the portent of the pitch / or direction of song,’ but the poet does know: ‘… it does not look like a man / asleep.’ ‘Poem after the manner of simple hearts’ describes the funeral and the mother and child visiting her husband’s/his father’s grave ‘The sky is bloody and violent.’ Allen’s thematic and imagistic concern with birds and bird metaphors in Here are birds is revealed halfway through the chapbook in its title poem’s epigram. Here Allen defines augury as “Interpreting the will of the gods by studying the patterns of birds, both from their flight, alites and their voice, oscines.” There is also the poet’s belief that ‘… Nature / cures Nature,’ in the next poem, father and his attempt to recover him, if not physically, then in his thoughts. In “Serenade” what Wallace Stevens, Schopenhauer and Mark Twain said all fail to comfort the poet who remarks: ‘What do they know anyway.’

The four-part poem, ‘From Amsterdam,’ towards the chapbook’s end, continues this conversation, but in a setting more familiar to AQ’s Dutch-resident readers and without the previous avian imagery. It also reveals some negative elements of the speaker’s relationship with his father. This poem begins with a letter addressed to G. with various dates which, in its first section, describes a night with friends in the Vondelpark in which he uses an extended arachnidan metaphor: ‘we hung in the / nets, strung out and dozing and everyone changing the / sound of my name in their mouths.’ In section I., the poet returns to the theme of his lost father, and his father’s perception of him as a ‘lazy’ because his ‘drawing in the sand with a stick’ wasn’t enough for his father. Now, writing in the Vondelpark his ‘notebook has become a sign of occupancy.’ In section II, even looking at ‘Picasso’s fish’ sculpture reminds him of his father’s absence. In the third section, a somewhat weaker section of this series, the poet describes ‘hot pancakes wrapped in his hand,’ which he wanted to ‘skim…into the canal like perfection reflections of the moon.’

The last poem in the collection reveals finally an intergenerational conflict between father and son which has gone on for three generations in which the poet describes ‘Bill,’ his grandfather ‘whose death was a scandal only to himself’ This rich, rhythmical poem with its very original images describes sometimes standard, generational, pendular personality type swings between father, son and grandson. The grandfather, like his grandson, was also called ‘lazy’ because he was a farmer who ‘wouldn’t hoe his corn / and lost to frost the lot he’d sown.’ The poet describes his grandfather as dead before he died ‘Scratched to death by his familiars,’ … grown white … put himself to bed / each night on butcher’s ice,’ … and his ‘coffin-varnished mind.’ These descriptions of his grandfather’s laziness and his preoccupation with death is also reflected in the poet’s own perceptions. It is perhaps a bit unfortunate that the poet didn’t explore his similarity with his grandfather a bit more and also their differences with their father/son. Nonetheless, collectively, these poems are the product of an inventive, intelligent mind trying to grieve, through art, about a parent’s sudden, tragic death and about what separated and connected him to his family whilst they were still alive.

Similarly to book above and all good books of poetry, Alida Woods’ book Disturbing Borders tries to cross the line or bridge the gap between what is said and not said, what is seen and what is only felt, and between life and death, mortality and immortality, through images from landscapes, home interiors and her family. I first became acquainted with Woods’ work at the Blue Flower Winter Writers’ Conference at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in January 2015. She attended a class led by internationally-renowned, multi-award winning poet, Carolyn Forché. During class, Woods read a poem entitled ‘The Clearing.’ I told her about AQ and asked if she would consider submitting the poem for AQ16, whose theme was Interiors, Gardens, Landscapes and Music. She promised she would, but like many promises made at conferences thousands of miles away, I wondered if she would actually send it.

And she did. I paired her poem with a digital image by Yolanda V. Fundora entitled Jockey Hollow #3. Her poem’s placement next to Fundora’s golden clearing received many positive comments from readers. In addition, I got to know Woods a bit more when she visited Amsterdam with her partner in April 2017 and attended AQ’s Writers’ Group. She told me at the time she was working on finishing a book of poems for a publisher. Disturbing Borders is that book.

This chapbook of twenty-seven introspective and meditative poems describes how desert, seacoast, suburban gardens, ageing parents and lost things transport the poet to places ‘beyond maps.’ In the book’s opening poem, ‘Crossing,’ she describes how watching her daughter carry her child reminds her of watching war refugees carry their children. She wonders how they will find ‘a place we called home.’ Then harkening back perhaps to a time early in human history, she writes about the necessity of human cooperation. ‘We will arrive carrying each other / across the river / across some faint line in the sand / or we will not arrive.” The theme of refugees is addressed in the next poem at the end after the speaker has lost a glove and remembers the effects of a flood: “three people downriver … or a boy and his mother crossing some border’.

In ‘Valley of Fire, Utah’ and ‘Folding Lesson’ she mentions the lost civilizations of the Aztec and the Wampanoag and relates them to lost parts of herself from her childhood in the second poem when she goes to visit her mother ‘in a home not is not her home’ or ‘in the village of the elderly’ as the poet refers to it in third poem entitled ‘Eighty seven.’ In ‘Peripheral Vision’ the poet relates her mother’s blindness to her own drive from the mountains into the valley where, because of a storm the poet reports it is ‘darker here and deep green’ and ‘I cannot see’.

In ‘Deadheading Daffodils,’ Woods writes how gardeners ‘create their own geography / careful boundaries drawn, / plots of obedient perennials / resurrecting each year’. In ‘Cartography’ Woods wonders where sleep and the unconscious take us: ‘Where we go at night after night / on this pilotless craft / heading beyond maps—’ Loss in represented in two poems, ‘The House of Forgetting’ and ‘Pigeon River Gorge,’ the first about the memories her mother’s house still holds after her death and the second about the slaughter of an entire species of hundreds of millions, the carrier pigeon, by American immigrants in a little more than a century. ‘In the Drawer’ the poet finds a letter her sister wrote to her ‘two days before she died’ but never sent, among a collection of pencils that have ‘reproduced in the drawer, / Chap Stick and three tubes of sun cream.’ It is a message that in: ‘Buried there’ it reminds her ‘that life is messy and unsharpened’. Framed by the event of an autumn dog walk, ‘The Clearing’ is meditative poem in which the reader can feel and see the dog’s ‘fur ripples in the brittle air / that draws us into this amber afternoon.’ This poem is about more than a dog walk. It contains an epiphany, perhaps with her mother’s and sister’s deaths in mind, when the poet notes ‘The moon lifts her belly up over the trees’ and ‘shadows reappear and ghosts speak softly’. Her mother’s shadow is specifically mentioned in the next poem, ‘In Your Mother’s House,’ in which there were ‘an abundance of things and a scarcity of love’. In the poem’s conclusion, the speaker’s mother’s shadow ‘slid onto / the pages of her / unwritten book’.

‘Dancing in Cassadaga,’ is about a visit to a psychic village that helps define another disturbed border in this collection. The psychic’s home décor and ambiance includes a talking bear ‘warning intruders / that crossing the line may / involve intricate encounters with poetry.’, ‘the smell of patchouli’ and ‘made in India drapery’. The psychic tells the poet about her children’s lives or characteristics in the present, the poet’s past life in Egypt and her advice for the poet’s future. “The Color of Morning” the chapbook’s terminal poem is located in some borderless time and place although it takes place in the poet’s hallway at 4 a.m. Here, the reader cannot be certain at first if the poet is describing an apparition of her mother in the hallway with her daughter, the poet herself, in her arms, or her own daughter with her grandchild. Once again, as in Allen’s collection’s terminal poem, the generations tumble one into other as a family travels through time, past, present and future, trying to find its way. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ20 Autumn 2017 Book Reviews

AQ20 Autumn 2017 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Rob Jacques, War Poet, Sibling Rivalry Press ISBN 978-1-943977-29-1, 118 pages.
Seth Pennington, Tertulia, Sibling Rivalry Press, ISBN 978-1-943977-37-6, 45 pages.
Kenneth Pobo, Loplop in a red city, Circling Rivers Press, ISBN 978-1-939530-03-5, 102 pages.
Nonnie Augustine, To See Who’s There, CreateSpace, ISBN 978-1-545137-94-9, 75 pages.

This quarter I received four extraordinary poetry books in my mailbag that I’d like to recommend without reservation to my readers. Each is striking in its approach to poetry and each adds something new to this genre.

The first book is War Poet by retired seaman Rob Jacques. With its striking cover painting of a naked WWII gunner who stripped to rescue a fellow seaman and then, still naked, returned to man his post, this book will certainly grab readers attention in bookstores—and the poems inside will certainly keep it. This book of 60 poems, some formal and rhymed and others in free verse, explore the various ways gay seamen lived and loved from Vietnam through “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to Guantanamo. Jacques describes the camaraderie he enjoyed with fellow seamen, as a new recruit and at the Naval Academy, uniforms, rank and power relationships, life onboard ship (including seascapes and starry night watches) and getting away on shore leave to have sex.

War Poet contains many important details relevant to both gay and straight seamen over several eras. “Crossing the Line” describes a Vietnam-era, new recruit’s naval rite of passage on his first equatorial crossing: how he is forced to “eat slop,” and later have “kissed the Royal Baby’s belly/smeared with axle grease, swum in muck, and sung smutty songs.” before he can “join/the Solemn mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep.” “Russian Captain of the First Rank” describes the poet’s shipboard meeting with a Russian captain presumably during détente. “Thoughts on a Suicide Bomber’s Cowardice” and “Washing My Enemy’s Feet” describe the medical treatment and compassion shown to enemy bombers who failed or even injured themselves during the Gulf Wars. In the first poem the poet writes: “strange thing sitting here/handcuffed, chained, stripped bare. How easy/ it’d be to send you back…they would surely kill you.” He ends the poem, however, grateful there wasn’t loss of life on either side.

However, it’s poems such as, “Love Call of a US Navy Frigate,” “Unrequited,” “Days of 1968,” “Undertow” and “In Memoriam for James J. Williams” that chronicle the toll of gay seamen’s double lives: marriages of convenience, sex with strangers in strange ports, alcoholism, and a suicide. “In Memoriam” is about a nineteen-year-old sailor’s tragic situation that, as the title continues, “Unable to Choose Between the Person He Loved and the US Naval Academy, Chose Neither.” In “Days of 1968” Jacques describes a seaman “onwatch, when ashore, for more men like me; loyal to a fault/clean, buff always unconsciously on the hunt for another guy” but unfortunately, as in “Undertow,” men “who could never kiss.” “Love Call of a U.S. Navy Frigate” and “Unrequited” describe the tension of being attracted to a married man or one who would not return the poet’s affection.

Fortunately for the reader there are a few happy endings including the book’s first dedication to the poet’s partner and his poem “Meditation While On a Broad Reach” which describes how the poet survived in such a world of shifting political and sexual policies using the metaphor of a boat to tack against them, and at the same time, capture their energy to propel his boat, and thus himself, forward.

In addition to poems about his personal experience in the navy, there are also poems with a general historical resonance. “Vice Admiral Harold G. Bowen Reflects” refers to the inquiry into the Pueblo surrender to North Korea in the late ’60s, “Love Call of the Last Great Auk,” the extinction of that large North Atlantic seabird by mariner hunters in the 1840s and of course “Lines for Horace Bristol’s Photo of a Naked WWII PBY Blister Gunner,” the origin of the image of the naked serviceman depicted on the book’s cover.

All in all, War Poet is excellent combination of poetry and gay and naval history. Due to the depth of its expression and the universality of its themes, this is a book that anyone who has ever gone to sea will be interested in. It should certainly be in every LGBTQ library.

Tertulia is the title of a slim, 16-poem, pocket-sized chapbook by Sibling Rivarly Press editor, Seth Pennington. Its title refers to a Spanish term for a salon of writers and artists. It is a poetic exploration of various aspects of his relationship with his partner and their relationship to art. These poems have dense imagery that changes quickly and/or is piled up layer upon layer as if they were a series of Abstract Impressionist paintings.

The book begins autobiographically and conventionally stylistically but with a rather unconventional story. In “Nellie Mae” a woman, the poet’s mother, thought to be barren, adopts two children to keep her husband. Then, miraculously gives birth to a third, the poet, who in kind, brings his mother into his home in her last years. This poem and the next, “Let the Earth Have Him,” reflect the poet’s religious upbringing, and the struggle between the spiritual and the material, “dirt” signifying gay sex. The poet’s occupation as an undertaker keeps him close to this recurring corporeal/non-corporeal tension in the next poem, “Do Not Resuscitate” which is the scene of a vehicular suicide. Keeping his professional distance, the poet describes the suicide as “Bone-faced and bitter/orange skin stretched taut.” He mentions “a near empty Black Label bottle…in the pocket of his Denim jacket” and “a wallet, a letter and three more: //D//N/R//…down a chest whiter than comfort allows.” This very precise description of a fatal automobile collision puts the reader both in the driver’s seat and in the observer’s head.

“Skin” explores the sensuosity of the poet’s relationship to his partner. The poem contains some interesting and implicit poetic comparisons. The “day’s coffee” and “his own musk,” his partner’s “lips against my skin” followed by “whispering to a sleeping moth,” “love” a “new skin, … your lips broke open.”

The poem “Some birthday” describes six birthday photos recording their gay and lesbian friends and partners, quoting gay poets, and at the same time, the artistic denial of the poet’s partner that these are not able to capture him: “I AM NOT IN THE POEMS/AND NOW NOT THE POEM!!!!!!” the poet himself also “always doubting.” “Birch Coffee” continues the corporeal/non-corporeal debate adding temporality. We “have lost control and time/which only exists in watches.” The poet laments: “How can I make you understand/you are more to me than a body,”

The chapbook’s title poem is a remembrance of a romance of two partners, one a Chilean, whose cheeks bloomed like “great roses” while the poet sat with them and his own partner and heard “music in the park grow into a grand piano.” Tragically in the next stanza, “Mauricio’s homeland, his Chile, felt his pulse, took him for soil, sent you away: holding onto Proust:” the partner left behind not being able to find Mauricio’s spirit again at a Frank O’Hara festival on Fire Island. Here Pennington shows the power of his poetry, in these phrases’ rhythm and the reintroduction of the temporality leitmotif.

I’m glad “Tertulia” mentions O’Hara because the size of this book and its content remind me of O’Hara’s reference in “A Step Away from Them” to another small, slim volume. He writes: “My heart is in my/pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy” before which he has happily enjoyed Manhattan’s sights, sounds, smells and music on his lunch break. I feel the same as I enjoy Amsterdam on an atypically sunny Sunday afternoon, after Quaker meeting and a quick visit to the Rijksmuseum’s Honour Gallery whilst waiting for AQ’s monthly tertulia to begin at the Stadsschouwburg cafe on the Leidseplein. Across the square, young Apple Store shoppers tumble down the glass staircase, ecstatic like religious fanatics, that, with their new devices, they’ll be able to send and share their work up in the Cloud, whilst two large neon glasses of beer atop another building magically refill, draw close to toast and empty, blue and white trams clang by, and fire jugglers entertain tourists just outside my window as I feel the weight of Pennington’s Tertulia in my breast pocket. I think you too will enjoy Tertulia and will appreciate life a little bit more, wherever you live, once you’ve read it.

A third, outstanding book is Kenneth Pobo’s Loplop in a red city. This is a collection of 66 poems about familiar (“The Third of May” by Goya and “Van Gogh’s Crows”) and less familiar (“Hubbub” by Emily Bridgwater and “Dog Come Here into the Dark House” by Leonora Carrington) artworks. In Loplop Pobo conveys different media and painting styles in his collection in deft poetic strokes and short lines using just the right words. From Van Gogh to Margritte from Picaso to Max Ernest, Pobo’s short, carefully crafted lines refer imaginatively and clearly to what’s on the canvas and/or the feeling or mood it creates for the viewer.

Loplop is divided into three sections: “Crow at Daybreak,” “Get Far Enough Out” and “Giraffe Mask.” The first section’s poems are dominated by Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. Pobo’s poem “Vincent Van Gogh” contains a six-part poetic mini-biography of Van Gogh’s life. “Van Gogh’s Crows” refers to one of his last paintings “Wheat Field with Crows” (1890) in which the crows “took his body up to heaven—… a small flock got him there…black wings//perfect for mourning.” This first section’s ekphrastic poems contain images or direct references to conflagration, execution, brokenness, unfulfillment, and death, among other weighty topics, inspired by the paintings of Marianne von Werefkin, Gabriele Munter, Penelope Rosemont, Howard Hodgkin and Girogio de Chirico respectively. This is very interesting and unconventional selection that sent me to an art library to further enjoy what Pobo describes.

“Get Far Enough Out” starts with “Loplop Introduces Loplop,” after a painting by Max Ernst called “Loplop Introduces Himself.” Pobo’s writes: “I have a painting to show you/It’s the real me.//Or it was when I painted it.”, perhaps referring to the artist’s transformation as (s)he creates. He continues probing the issue of the authorship of a work of art: “Does it matter/who signs what? Maybe while//painting.” Then in the second half he reintroduces the themes of disintegration and death: “in death my feathers will travel/will enter the world in ways/I never could—.” The musings of this “Half bird/half man,” continue in the next poem, “Loplop” which describes the falling apart of the body and a “surrender … (like) a hot balloon” to some sort of “not bird, not human,” … “free.” In “Loplop introduces a Young Girl” Pobo describes, based Max Ernest painting, an imaginary, thousand year old young girl with a “scepter/ made of sleeping hurricanes,” who makes tomato soup for Death.

In “Triumphal Entry,” Pobo depicts James Ensor’s “Christ’s Entry into Brussels,” where He arrives unnoticed by a crowd of people more concerned about “another star’s trial” and “fire sales, credit debit,/ and investments.” Discouraged he goes to “a nearby gay bar,/and visits friends who/buy him a drink/and invite him to judge/the Mr. Leatherman competition.” He also has a “Kurt Schwitters” poem where the artist remarks: “When critics say my art stinks/I add them to my trash piles and make a collage.” Schwitters also hails “the trash man, his truck/transporting glorious muck.” Another humorous sexual reference can be found in “Parade Amoureuse,” after a painting by Francis Picaba. Here the poet writes: “Love, so outdated, I find it/only in resale shops” and at the end of the poem “remembering sex/in a Butte motel, barn owls/barking in the pines.”

The third section, “Giraffe Mask,” includes poems whose vantage point is mostly surrealistic and whose descriptions, I feel, sometimes even exceed the inspiration of the original paintings they seek to describe. Most noteworthy in this section are “Giraffe on Fire,” “The Red City,” and “Marcel Duchamp” about paintings by Salvador Dali, Paul Delvaux and Marchel Duchamp respectively. Here his poetic imagery changes quickly. In “Giraffe on Fire’” the poet relates a dream in which he finds himself in grade school, but as a “grown up” trying “to fit myself/behind the desk.” He then describes the teacher: “a man made of step ladders/and spoons,” who “made me/shallow mud. I work up, poured coffee.” In “The Red City” the poet moves swiftly and deftly from images of “ruin,” “bones that have shed gender” to “an androgyne,” to the “Sky” and “death” in just the first two stanzas. The next and last two stanzas include “the meaning of life… which hasn’t yet been/put in a zoo.” and ends with a reference to the wisdom of evolution: “the skeleton who shops/at only the best Ideas.” Pobo’s poem “Marcel DuChamp” even though it doesn’t refer to “Nude Descending a Staircase,” but DuChamp’s larger oevre, nonetheless, replicates the many planes of the cubist painting as his characteristically short lines helically descend down the page. This is a special delight since most of Pobo’s previously poems have been concerned with imagery and philosophy and not radical typographic presentation.

In lieu of my above analysis, I feel LopLop in a red city is an ideal book for an ekphrastic poetry-writing workshop. Pobo and Circling Rivers should be very pleased with this fine book and promote it actively for use in college writing programmes.

Nonnie Augustine’s To See Who’s There, is a book of poetry and prose that spans many styles, subjects and historical periods. The book is organized into four sections, each with a quote from an Emily Dickenson poem. The first section, “The Moon slides down the stair—to see who’s there,” includes a poem about the poet’s current domestic life, “December 14, 2016”; her early love for dance that was deeper than her parents’ love for each other, “The Most Beautiful Lady”; a failed relationship, “My Early Thirties”; an Abecederian about her family history, the book’s title poem; a great-aunt’s belief in later generations of women, “Otillie Augustine Speaks To Me”; and many meditations on who and where she is due to her ancestors’ fortitude, stubbornness, constitution, and their wise and foolish decisions.

The second section, “A Deed Knocks First At Thought,” is a set of family history poems prefaced by a Charlie Hebdoe massacre elegy, “Wednesday late, Friday early.” This poem uses repetitive sounds, personal observations, news reports, and Internet information about arms, especially the Kalisnikov rifle, to make its point: “Shoot. Cartoon. Oooo sounds./Bad moon rising.” Later in the poem Augustine writes: “I am not a political poet./We are all political poets./Take a breath. Take several./Take away the K-guns from their grips.” Graywolf Press executive editor, Jeffrey Shotts, praised this poem after its first public reading in 2015. This political elegy and the personal genealogical poems that follow, reflect Augustine’s poetic dexterity and reach. In thirteen pages she goes from contemporary Paris to medieval Northumbria, 19th century Ireland and Liverpool, and 20th century Austria and America. Her poems’ characters experience murder, hunger, betrayal, rejection, insanity, suicide, war-related disability, and the occasional turn of good fortune such as election to public office. Katherine Eulallie, in a poem of the same title says: “I’ve gotten through the Depression, two goddamn wars, the death of a child and Harry’s stomach cancer… I can damn sure get the hang of being old.”

The trans-continental, trans-centurial poems continue in the book’s third section, “A Charm invests a face” with poems from 17th century France and New France (Quebec), 15th century Spain, 19th century Vienna, and 20th century New York City which follow each other seamlessly and address the subjects of love and fortunes won or lost, alcoholism, families relations both distant and present which are shining examples for anyone wanting to capture their family history.

The last section, “‘Faith’ is a Fine Invention,” describes different expressions of belief and disbelief such as a Druid solstice ceremony, a deathbed confession, a closeted, gay, Catholic great uncle, and a relative who never lets the priest come to administer the last rights. The collection ends with a Joycean prose coda “The Piano Players Dead Rejoice (or so I Hear)” reminiscent of “The Dead.” To See Who’s There is a book of poetry that masterfully bridges the centuries of Augustine’s family history on two continents and seven countries seamlessly. It is certainly a model for what collections of genealogical poems can be. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ19 Summer 2017 Art Reviews

AQ19 Summer 2017 Art Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Edward Krasinski Retrospective, Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, 24 June to 15 October 2017.
Rineke Dijkstra Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, 20 May to 8 August 2017.

The Thin Blue Line

As an art critic, I am sometimes seen as the thin blue line between what is art and what may be variously described as kitsch, empty, repeated stylistic or signature gestures or just plain hype. For me, important art is something sublime, revolutionary and/or transgressive, which stirs theists’ souls or atheists’ psyches and which must be encouraged and protected. As a critic with preview and privileged access to some new, Amsterdam art exhibitions and sometimes their artists, I consider it my duty to guide both my Dutch and foreign resident readers to where they can best spend their time. Sometimes, as is the case with this review of the Edward Krasinski Retrospective at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, my review is mixed as I found some elements of this exhibition praiseworthy, whilst others unfortunately left me cold.

Krasinski was part of an experimental, minimalist art movement in Poland from the 1960s to the 2000s. His tiny studio and apartment was a gathering place for the Polish avant-garde. His “trademark” was his use of 12 mm., blue electrical tape that ran through most of his work (and sometimes that of others) continued on the walls of his studio at exactly 130 cm. This divided the standard wall of approximately 260 cm. into two planes: above and below. Sometimes, as in his Intervention series paintings from the 1970s to the 1990s, the blue line is incorporated into the planes and dimensionality of the geometric shapes themselves, going into the sides and corners of the three dimensional objects and then out the back of the artwork and then back onto the wall. These pure geometric shapes with many planes certainly reminds me of Piet Mondriaan’s later work, after he had abandoned Impressionism and Cubism for his own Constructivism and also that of Kazimir Malevich, both of whose work is well-represented in the Stedelijk’s permanent collection. In addition to this perspective-challenging gimmick, the Krasinski exhibition also contains earlier work from the 1960s before the omnipresent thin, blue line. These mixed media sculptures and mobiles, incorporating scrap metal, wood and other found objects, are evocative not only due to their combinations and surfaces, but also due to the shadows they create on a wall when a light is shone on them as they move. These works are indeed are economical, whimsical and multi-faceted. In addition, the last gallery of the exhibition contains an archive of selected documents, especially photographs, correspondence and sketches that add a historical dimension to the exhibition. For example, there is a letter from Nelson Rockefeller’s art collection curator, requesting information about acquiring Krasinski’s Number 7, 1967 on exhibition then at the Guggenheim Museum.

However, since this is a travelling retrospective, which is making its second stop after the Tate Liverpool, the exhibition contains a lot more installations, artwork and even a reconstruction of part of the artist’s tiny Warsaw studio which unfortunately left me feeling a bit cold. The gallery called Labyrinth with its hanging mirrors with blue tape through them reflecting the faces of the exhibition’s viewers and also the backs of other mirrors felt like something I’d seen before in student art shows wanting to exploit the voyeurism related to art appreciation. Another gallery which featured Krasinski’s blue cord sculptures for the Tokyo Biennial also didn’t seem to me to be such a radical extension of, nor as effective as, his blue-taped wall trademark since they don’t seem to be geometrically transgressive. Lastly his reconstructed studio, whilst cluttered with archival papers and photos, didn’t really seem to shed much light for me on his modus operandi. I realise that being an artist in Cold War Poland required sacrifices both related to being unable to make challenging political statements and having access to proper materials, but I don’t see how this reconstructed studio brings this to light. I do, however, understand how this repressive impoverished environment created absurdist artwork such as Tadeusz Kantor’s black and white photo entitled Panoramic Sea Happening of Krasinski at the beach standing on a step ladder with an audience in beach chairs, conducting the waves and how other parts of the exhibition I have mentioned above, do bring this, if only tangentially, to light.


If however, you are able to make it to the Stedelijk before 8 August, and perhaps need a break from the Krasinski exhibition, you will be lucky to view some of Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra’s work including a few series of photographic portraits of young people and some video works. Dijkstra has made her name as an artist by being able to capture seemingly spontaneous moments in young people’s lives whether it be in a park or at the beach or the transformation of a new recruit to battle-hardened soldier. Her photos and videos capture the permanent, youthful, artistic springtime mentioned in John Keats “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”

Dijkstra’s children and young adults, are depicted in moments of society and solitude that fade or change almost as soon as the photos are taken. For example her Park Series includes one photo of two young men and two young women sitting on a lawn between trees with water in the background in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark on a rare sunny day. One youth sits up looking slightly cross while the other is reclining and on the point of laughing. This photo reminds me of Edouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe only the young women are fully clothed, maintaining the transitory adolescent air of innocence. Dijkstra is famous for some of her other classical references such as her photo of a female in a yellow swimsuit, Kolobrzg, Poland, July 26, 1992, her hair and pose similar to that of Botecelli’s Birth of Venus. In another series, Olivier, Quartier Viénot, Marseilles, mentioned above, Dijkstra captures the transformation of a fresh, young recruit to hardened, battle-ready soldier (including one photo with face camouflage and fatigues and another in dress uniform) over three years.

The most engaging piece of this exhibit, however, is the video triptych, I Can See A Woman Crying, (2009) in which a group of Liverpudlian children in their red, white and grey school uniforms first describe hesitantly and cautiously their ideas about what is happening in Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Women. Their discussion picks up pace and volume as they become more engaged and feel freer to express themselves reaching a natural crescendo towards the end of the video’s 12 minutes. The spontaneity of the children’s responses is also aided by the slightly asynchronous depiction of what is said before the young speaker is shown and the speakers are shuffled from one to another of the three video screens. This a fresh and engaging video piece, worth the journey alone to the museum. I hope you have the opportunity to view it. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – AQ19 Summer 2017 Book Reviews

AQ19 Summer 2017 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte

Gary Beck. Tremors. Winter Goose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-941058-64-0, 108 pages.
Kate Foley. Electric Psalms. Shoestring Press. ISBN 978-1-910323-55-7, 164 pages.
Susan E. Lloy. But When We Look Closer. Now or Never Publishing. ISBN 978-1-988098-25-8, 181 pages.
Scott T. Starbuck. Hawk on Wire. Ecopoems. Fomite Press. ISBN 978-1-944388-05-8, 76 pages.

The books in this review are from mature writers in the latter phases of their careers, who I feel are all involved in restating and/or summing up some of their most important concerns and discoveries. These writers have all done their preparatory and developmental work and have had time to refine their style and approach effectively for maximum impact. Their new books reflect the wisdom of their observations and the effectiveness of their techniques.

Scott T. Starbuck’s Hawk on Wire poetry collection is the type the world needs in order to save the planet from wide-spread, lasting ecological destruction. They are poems by a man who has written about his love of nature and his concerns about climate change, species extinction and our planet’s ecological destruction for years even though these subjects are still not part of every writing programme’s curriculum. (I remember writing instructors in the mid-1980s, who felt they needed to stop me from embarrassing myself writing about the beginning of the AIDS crisis which they told me “might not turn out to be so bad.”)

In “Punch Bowl Hike Meditation,” Starbuck writes “For 30 years / I’ve talked to myself / about climate change / but now most everyone is.” His poems show the effect of this type of prescient solipsism on a man, a type of prophecy that is almost as old as the ancients he mentions in his next poem, “Wind Spirit,” first published in Amsterdam Quarterly in 2016. The Wind Spirit asks a person one question: “How will you save the community of species on earth?” and tells him/her each time she/he answers incorrectly, she/he will lose a finger. So in search of wisdom, this person tries to consult the “smart” coyote, the “king salmon” with “a bright red soul,” an eagle with its “unerring vision” among other majestic, powerful, well-travelled animals. Unfortunately, after ten days this person finds that these animals and their wisdom are all dead and he/she has no fingers left.

In “Conundrum” Starbuck writes about “Martha, the last passenger pigeon / who died in 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo.” In “Indian Boy” the speaker asks him: “There was a lake here with fish. Where is it?” and in “Message From Far Way” the poet laments “When people lost trees / they lost the ability to think // and minds were filled / by money locusts.” Starbuck laments not only the loss of trees, but also in “Initiation Poem” that, according to David W. Orr, “Young people can recognise over 1,000 corporate logos but only a handful plants and animals native to their places.”

On the positive side, Starbuck offers some solutions to climate change. One poem with suggestions is “How We Stopped Corporate Psychopaths From Cooking Planet Earth” in which he imagines “’Destroy Your Television Day’” grew more popular/than Xmas and the 4th of July.” and a major oil company is renamed “BlueOrbSolar.” Starbuck’s poems also describe his love for the natural world’s beauty, albeit a world that is quickly disappearing. He continues to write about his passion for fishing in secluded streams and his observation and his admiration of great birds such as the bald eagle, the horned owl and the hawk on (a) wire, from his title poem, who continue to observe and wisely avoid him and other humans.

More realistically chilling, however, Starbuck’s “Thoughts at the End of Empire,” echo somewhat my concern about the lack of AIDS awareness and education in schools and colleges in the mid-1980s: “It’s possible that education will change / from locking children in boxes / to getting them outside in tide pools, / rivers, creeks, deserts, mountains. // It’s also possible, based on our collective / behavior, there won’t be future generations.” Hawk on Wire is a powerful poetry collection worth reading and discussing—especially in writing programmes.

Susan Lloy’s But When We Look Closer is a collection of short stories that describes what happens when some druggy, former ’70s punkers are forced to move back home, to a rest home or other institutions for their own safety. These stories—the dark side of the Sid and Nancy generation—revolve around the subjects of sex, drugs, music, art, money, and mental illness. In addition, Lloy writes about people who are finally freed to pursue their artistic and erotic interests whether this be through finally having a permanent roof over their heads, receiving an inheritance or winning the lottery.

These stories, some no longer than a page, often have snap, but always credible endings. For example in “Where To,” a woman who takes a cab to a bar planning to kill her unfaithful lover. She decides not to, though, after a conversation with her Afghan cabbie, who describes how he ended up stranded up in a country, whose military accidentally killed his family. In “Dylan’s Roost” the young bookstore owner, whose shop provides a comfortable haven for both a rich author and a schizophrenic homeless man, is not rescued from financial peril due to his hard work or his good deeds. There is no karma, no payoff for good deeds, but plenty of financial practicalities in the Lloy’s fictional world.

The type of short stories I especially enjoy, those written about the same characters over a space of several decades, are also represented in this collection by “Close Kin” and “Dutch Lite.” In the first story, the main character, Margaret, then a twenty-something, an art school student, is involved in a three-way with Dutch twin brothers, Theo, a violinist, and Joop, an artist, in Amsterdam. She forms a formal relationship with one to stay in the Netherlands, but later their chaotic ménage trois, in which one man was like “the cold Atlantic greets the warm waters of the Indian ocean,” leads to a tearful breakup and Margaret handing her Dutch identity (indefinite stay) card to a Brussels’ airport customs official. Fast forward years later and in “Dutch Lite” Margaret has literally won the lottery and recently purchased a canal house in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district from where she can hear the Westerkerk’s chimes. However, as Thomas Wolff famously warned, “you can’t go home again,” and she finds her two previous lovers distant and in more permanent relationships than she had with them even though she offers them both space in her new home to practice music and paint with no strings attached. Her efforts to meet a new man also fail due to her being less than forthcoming about why she’s in Amsterdam, afraid her new beau might be attracted to her for just her money. When he also rejects her, she finally realises she, as many of her Lloy’s characters, can’t live in the past or, even with enough money, recreate it in the present.

The Canadian and Quebecois references in Lloy’s book also made it interesting to this American, permanent-resident of the Netherlands, who rarely ventured North of Niagara Falls. Lloy describes life in Canada’s French-speaking province and capital as well as its British maritime provinces. She describes apartments along Quebec’s grand avenues and her characters familiar, urban angst of having to look for flats after the buildings, in which they’ve lived for decades, go condo. Her stories set along the coast include those about recently deceased relatives and being party to the suicide of a terminally-ill, local fisherman and childhood friend. They are also about the relatives and friends who attend these funerals and/or spread their loved ones’ ashes along the shore where they will be near familiar rocky coasts and migratory whale routes.

Lloy’s description of mental illness, especially schizophrenia and its relationship to art, is also a distinctive feature of these stories. In “Even Sad Dogs Smile,” Lloy describes the “meds” that prevented Daleighla’s, her main character’s, schizophrenic episodes so she wouldn’t try to destroy the bathroom sink to stop the noise coming from its drain, but which also “clouded her head” so she could no longer create remarkable and edgy paintings and drawings. One episode is announced by her dog, Romeo, who suddenly says: “Give it over, you greedy, tight-fisted bitch,” as she offers him a piece of her sandwich. Tragically, after struggling for years to be represented by a gallery, just as she is accepted, she has another episode in which she destroys most of her work and when she comes back to herself, can’t create anything new that’s as good.

Lloy’s But When We Look Closer is a unique collection of short stories set in North America and Europe where her characters struggle with drugs, sex, art, money, mental illness and, most importantly, loss. As in life, so as in her fiction, Lloy’s characters discover too late that they can’t really change themselves, (even through plastic surgery,) or their past.

The next book I’d like to recommend for this summer is Gary Beck’s Tremors, a very generous collection of 104 poems. As will be familiar to readers of my previous reviews, what nature and climate change are to Starbuck, eroticism and social commentary are to Beck. The book’s epigraph by Apollinaire about ‘having known all kinds, who didn’t fullfil their destinies’ announces Beck’s socially-aware poetic view towards the close of his life which reverberates throughout Tremors. His first poem, “Entropy” is concerned with the passage of time and his desire to “accomplish/anything meaningful/in remaining days.” In “From the Terrace” he compares himself to an elderly lizard/hulking on a heating rock.” In poems such as “Dementia” “Ailment,” “Trapped,” “Summons,” “Question,” “Last Gasp,” and “Tempus” the theme of ageing is described through various metaphors and from different perspectives.

Other poems criticise the wielders of artistic, social or financial power. In “Middle Class Poets” he scorns the “bloated poets,”…“sneering” at “the world” because of their “protective cloak of tenure…mumbling impotent objections”. In “Past Sighting”, the poet “saw a processional of faces / loved ones I have known and lost”. In “Futilism” he ponders power and observes “Castles are only safe/from marauders / when built on hilltops” and that they are only maintained by “oppressive power / harshly inflicted/on diverse vassals.” Perhaps timely food-for-thought for the current, Microserf, pre-robotic generation. In his very short poem, “Free Will,” Beck refers to destiny again: “The lines of destiny / in my troubled life / have never been as thin, as crossing, or not crossing,/ the next street / turning the next corner / expecting discoveries.” In “Errata” he “fondle(s) old mistakes” and shows “hopes…curdled / by too much desire / for material things.”

In Tremors, the poet finds an uneasy respite in literature and sex. In poems such as “Lust Song” and “Inspiration,” Beck refers to “the tender lust of power, / dreaming you perfect” and “Praise for reawakenings.” In “Woman” he pines: “I can do without you no longer”.

His less frequent and more unusual poems include the picturesque and informative “Mallorca” with its beautiful description of the island and its history and “Hitchhiking North” in which the poet bathes in a pond and leaves feeling the “water’s pure deliverance.” It’s a pity there’s not more of this type of poetry in this collection. Perhaps because this deliverance is brief, as the tremors mentioned in his poems “Detached” “I lie beside your tremors / silent, hoping to endure” and in “Ianamorata” “When last my fingers, / gripped hard to your flesh, / squeezed until my tremors burst,” quickly return Beck to his primary modes of eroticism and critical social observation.

In Tremors, Beck has written a generous, poetic collection, from which readers will certainly find at least a some poems that will deliver a few mindquakes.

Electric Psalms, new and selected poems is British-born poet and Amsterdam-resident Kate Foley’s latest book. Its first eight sections contain many of Foley’s more well-known and previously published poems from her first collection, Soft Engineering, to her most recent, The Don’t Touch Garden, the latter of which was reviewed in AQ14, in autumn 2015. The ninth section includes 27 new poems with subjects as wide-ranging as pre-, natural and recorded history, being a linguistic ex-pat, dangerous Amsterdam cyclists, ageing, Quaker meeting, an artist’s unstoppable urge to create, and the evolution and possible end of humankind. In 28 pages, Foley explores these subjects and more with her keen sense of observation. In poems such as “To Write a Natural History, “What I Once Knew,” “Squirreling — Or An Archaeology of Memory,” she zooms in on the words that “lie in the cave of our mouths,” or “the spider on the back gate / (that) drew a marvellous / map with silk, / a living harp / to sing winged creatures in” and “All the lives you touched live on walls,” respectively. “My Humble Body,” “Why is Patinated OK,” and “What I Once Knew” are all about ageing, “from The Other Side of Sleep” about dying and “Washing the Dead” about death. Though some poems contain the same subjects, each creates a different mood, by using a different structure, style and set of metaphors.

Most interesting are Foley’s poems about life in Amsterdam. These include “A Different Psalm” about Amsterdam Quaker Meeting, “The Collective Noun for Bicycles” and the book’s title poem, “Electric Psalms.” The last two are about the city’s seemingly mad cyclists who are a law onto themselves. In “Electric Psalms,” Foley describes cyclists who “whirr (past) like demented coffee grinders.” She marvels at the torrent of helmet-less cyclists, “Helmets? Ha!” some wearing “high heels” or with “mobile phones…clamped to one ear.” In “Electric Psalms” it’s “Traffic lights? Ha!” or bikes with “no brakes,” or cyclists who “Text as you ride?” all of which captures the hurly-burly of living in central Amsterdam.

There are also poems about music and musicians reflecting the influence of the nearby Concertgebouw on Foley’s life. In “Borrowing the Old Man’s Shoes” she describes how Beethoven “stepped out of his carriage to write music on the road.” In “Tuning the Brook with Stones,” she writes of the music water makes as it goes downstream.

Foley even includes an apocryphal poem set in the Netherlands entitled “After It’s Over.” In the poem she asks what will happen: “when all the restored windmills / have broken loose…when Facebook turns the same / tired page tirelessly, / and all the ringtones of the world / sing in polyphony?” Her solution to this domesday scenario and one of the keys to her poetic perspective as a trained midwife and scientist is “to celebrate / the grief of elephants, / their ivory yellow sadness, / the scattered far-flung / molecules of belief.”

Bryan R. Monte – AQ18 Spring 2017 Art Review

AQ18 Spring 2017 Art Review
by Bryan R. Monte

Ed van der Elksen – Camera in Love/De Verliefde Camera, Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum

At the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, one can currently view the one of largest retrospectives of photographer and filmmaker Ed van der Elsken’s work in 25 years. The exhibition entitled: Ed van der Elksen – Camera in Love/De Verliefde Camera is open until 28 May 2017.

Van Der Elksen (1925-1990) photographed the cityscapes and people of Paris (in the 1950s), Amsterdam (in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s), and Hong Kong and Tokyo (in ’60s and ’70s). He also went off to Africa and around the world by boat to photograph people in remote and less Western locations in the late 1950s. The Stedelijk, which has the largest collection of Van Der Elksen’s work, has assembled a very comprehensive, longitudinal exhibition of both his photos and films and presented them in a very aesthetically sensitive, yet educational manner.

Museum director, Beatrix Ruf said at the press conference that Van Der Elsken was a Dutch photographer who “experimented with photos and film in ways that capture the moment, that tell stories in ways that are really intense.” For example, Van Der Elksen’s Paris photos of the 1950s have a very dark and grainy quality that Elsken used to show the gritty quality of its post-WWII café society. Van Der Elsken studied sculpture in the Netherlands in the 1940s and these sharp, sculptural edges can be seen in his black and white photos from the ’50s. He also, like Weegee, was fascinated by crime in the big city and the exhibition includes photos of two French gendarmes taking a man away, their arms under his shoulders, as well as a full-length, group portrait of Japanese Yakuza reminiscent of some of the guild and schutters portraits in the Rijksmuseum and Haarlem’s Franz Hals Museum.

The exhibition is divided physically into two sections: an inner ring and an outer ring. The inner ring has 200 of Van Der Elsken’s photographs hung on white walls. It includes photos from the 1950s to the 1980s in black and white and colour and displays Van Der Elksen’s various photographic techniques and changing subject matter—from cityscapes and people to concentrating more on the urban personalities in his later work. The darker outer ring includes about a dozen films, some slides and many contact sheets, notes on how he would crop or expose his shots, as well as historical and biographical information. One short film records what was left of the Jewish ghetto in the 1950s. When I first came to the Netherlands, I asked what had happened to the Jewish Quarter and I was told by more than one person most of it had fallen in due to the construction of the underground Metro line (which was opposed with much protest in the late ’60s/early ’70s as is memorialised on the walls of the Nieuwmarkt station, near the centre of the former Jewish neighbourhood). This, however, is clearly not true according to Van Der Elsken’s film with the subtitle “Demolition Jewish Quarter.” It shows the neighbourhood with many overgrown, vacant lots, but also with some derelict or abandoned buildings with boarded up windows still standing, one of which is being scavenged for wooden beams.

This section also includes a variety of photos, short films and a slide show from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The earliest film is about Van Der Elksen’s sponsored world journey and in one scene, shows his cabin hung with rolls of developed film. Another staged scene shows two lovers in a convertible automobile being awakened by cows in a field. There is a set of photos from Central Africa from 1957-58 featuring people in traditional dress and face paint performing rituals, and hunting. “Eye Love You,” also the name of Van Der Elsken’s first, colour photobook from 1977, includes, according to the museum,: “hippies, nude beaches, couples having sex, and Indian transvestites” contrasted with “the poor and their struggle for survival.” “Tokyo Symphony,” is an unfinished project, due to Van Der Elksen’s illness, about that city including slides of the fishmarket, a religious ceremony, demonstrations, and as usual, Van Der Elsken’s regulars—the beautiful and the fringe and alternative types. One of the most interesting presentations of Van Der Elsken’s work in this dark ring is the projection of four films simultaneously on the four sides of a cube, each of which can be enjoyed separately or two simultaneously.

Van Der Elksen records Amsterdam in all its iconic glory including an auto being fished out of a canal, people dancing in a cafe to a live band, prostitutes in the red light district, mini-skirted women in high heels crossing the Dam, punks with spiky hair and safety pins through their ears, young men and women in designer clothes sitting outside at a cafe, emaciated junkies, and the obligatory hippie birth and sex videos of that era. Many of the photos and films of this period were captured by Van Der Elsken as he roamed the city centre in his specially-designed open car with rollbars to steady his camera, as if he were a naturalist filmmaker in a Range Rover capturing wildlife on the Serengeti’s plains. Ed van der Elksen – Camera in Love/De Verliefde Camera is an exhibit one won’t want to miss if you want to learn more about this Dutch photographer and filmmaker and, of course, about Amsterdam.