Friday, May 10, 2013



Brushstrokes and glances by Djelloul Marbrook
(Deerbrook Editions, Cumberland, ME, 2010)

After I finished my first read of Djelloul Marbrook's Brushstrokes and glances, I wanted to think of a summary phrase for it and came up with "sagacious ekphrasis."

Many of the poems are informed and inspired by artworks, hence the "ekphrasis."  But I also thought of "sagacious" as the poems do not merely illustrate what the poet saw.  The poems often see through the art object until the gaze attains the mirror -- because the "observations" then shared are as much a mirror to the witnessing poet as they are indicative of the art objects.

Such, of course, hearkens one of the core debates in criticism, of which "ekphrasis" can be an example.  Is what is being written accurately or sufficiently about the art object?  Or is what is being written about the author? 

Of course, a sage would know that the question at hand is not a binary.  Criticism is about both perspectives.  Good criticism is one where opinions are not simply delivered by themselves but delivered with examples from the art work being considered.

It doesn't say anything new or useful, though, to praise the art works cited in this book -- artists like Caravaggio, Basquiat, Bonnard, Picasso, Mondrian and Corot (among others) are masters. So it seems, to me anyway, more interesting to note what the poet is actually saying about himself -- what he saw in the mirrors that the art objects became.

Nor does this path entail that we be interested in the person who is Djelloul Marbrook.  I do not know him and perhaps (future) readers of his work also may not know him.  But we do come to be interested in him because of what he shares through his poems.  Here are two examples below.  The first speaks to me as an immigrant, but one need not be an immigrant (though aren't we all?) to enter this poem -- for instance, one just needs to recognize one's mortality:

Georges Seurat
(Studies for A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte)

I think like Seurat paints,
coloring molecules in air,
an apt apprentice
studying their gestures,
listening to them sing,
learning their language,
but never assuming
I will speak it well.
No Sunday afternoon
will be that afternoon;
even that is changing
when the lights go out.
But I do not despair
of the hue and scent
of a single moment
I see like Seurat draws,
apparitions at dusk
transiting dimensions,
illumined by the place
softly calling them.
Seurat takes notes
of what is happening.
He tips his hat
recognizing me
and then we're gone.

That's just such a delicately-wrought poem, as is this second example:

Never is
(Han van Meegeren, 1889-1947, art forger)

I am sure this sun-spattered street
is a copy by van Meegeren
of another canvas and I
sit there imagining this.
Something is not right, never is,
something that lifts the burden
of savoring how unique the thing
we see between a blink and a sob.

Other examples (which remind me why I love ekphrasis) exist, and they all lead to my cliched but sincere assessment of Brushstrokes and glances: this poetry collection is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED reading.  And it's worthwhile reading because, ultimately, this witness so clearly loves his subject.  Witnessing love is usually lovely --  I'll end with something not exactly ekphrasis but still observed wisely, thus compassionately so that love is displayed:

A jar of marsala

Doctors and lawyers are mechanics
my father said, but artists
are from Elizabeth Street
and he would waive their rents,
those fellow immigrants born
to hard times and a jar of marsala.


Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. An exception is made for the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA as that was co-written with another author, j/j hastain--and it is reviewed by T.C. Marshall in this GR #20 issue.  She is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books.  Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Tom Beckett at L'Amour Fou; by Amazon Hall of Famer Reviewer Grady Harp on Amazon and elsewhere; by Joey Madia at Literary Aficionado; by Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field; by Zvi Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene; and by jim mccrary and his cat Iris at Babaylan Poetics.  Her 2007 book, SILENCES: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LOSS, was also recently reviewed by Nicholas T. Spatafora in Litter Magazine.

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