EILEEN TABIOS Engages
Six Portraits by Julie Danho
(Slapering Hol Press at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., 2014)
As the author of THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I, I have some affinity to Julie Danho’s approach in creating Six Portraits. But I also might have the jaundiced eye towards such a project, in that sense that familiarity breeds contempt. It’s a relief, then, to say that Danho enlivens the concept by a concept of punctuation portraiture as well as wonderful poems.
Her chap is entitled “Six Portraits” for providing six series of poems structured to portray six punctuation marks: the question mark, the exclamation point, the period, the ellipsis, the comma, and the closed and open parentheses. A fine example is the epigrammatic poem to the title page for the exclamation point:
a leg a foot a
that flash of ankle
drove Victorians wild!
Picture that right next to an oversized ! and it is fitting indeed!
And how aptly as well does Danho apply the closed and open parentheses to an Edward Kennedy poem. As I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever read a poem before about Kennedy and the Chappaquiddick tragedy that killed Mary Jo Kopechne. Yet, as I began to read this poem, I had the sense, since the tragedy is so ingrained in my memory—in our memories—that of course I must have read at least another poem before about this incident! It’s that sense of familiarity with the subject that can make one be a more critical reader than if one was reading about something more distant. The second paragraph of this prose poem shows how Danho overcomes a reader’s potential ennui with adept use of the parentheses:
Days past Chappaquiddick, even he (Edward) said curse (“whether some awful curse did actually hang over…the Kennedys” (Address to the People of Massachusetts, 1969)). After all he’s done (healthcare, gun control, energy policy), the girl sinks deeper underwater. We forget how easy it is to forget, when forgetting is easier. (No, my grandfather never left the scene of a death, but the gambling losing gambling & the passing it down & the covering it up & me, racing off the bus to him, & him, cigarillo housed in his grin, arms flung wide as a Caddy.) No one wants to believe it ends like this (the if only he laid down to rest).
My favorite poem in the collection, however, is one that I felt went deepest into mining the depths of the persona at hand, in this case the question mark. As this poem reveals, erasure engenders aftermath; Danho’s version of such an aftermath holds the reader’s attention towards its finely wise conclusion:
Erased de Kooning
Robert Rauschenberg wanted to know if unmaking art
could make art. This idea seems too much for me,
having just seen giant irises blooming out of a wall, a painted
lower intestine, a woman’s bust sculpted from soap. But I’m standing
before his canvas, his Erased de Kooning Drawing, and, like much art,
its title tells me what to see. If you were here, how you would
praise this, how we would argue over whether this was true,
over what, if anything, was. Rauschenberg erased a de Kooning
that de Kooning reluctantly gave him because he appreciated
the idea, and it was, Rauschenberg said, all about the idea.
He erased the painting in celebration, just as you (I wish I could believe)
erase me. Not that I’m art, or you’re art, but weren’t we ideas
of each other? If you were here, you’d make your point, walk away
before you saw that Rauschenberg erased for a month and still
there are ink spots, de Kooning’s violet crayon; there are even eyes,
still looking. My love, Rauschenberg lied. The idea,
yes. But how his arms must have ached afterwards.
(Six Portraits: a recommended Read!
There are three punctuation marks in the prior sentence. First, an open parenthesis without the closed parenthesis; the missing closed parenthesis is to indicate that the experience of Six Portraits extends past this review—extends, hopefully, into readers following up to read for themselves the poems in Six Portraits. Secondly, a colon in the succinct and perhaps more empathic mode (relative to using “is” instead of the colon) to note that the collection is recommended. Last but not least, the exclamation point to stress the recommendation!
Six Portraits also features reproductions of evocative sculptures by E.V. Day. The cover image features Day’s “Bombshell” from Day’s series Exploding Couture and utilizes a white crepe dress with monofilament and turnbuckles. The dress is shown (as if) in mid-air and seemingly exploding. It inspired another fine poem by Day entitled “Bombshell”—here is how the poem begins:
How many men would have fought
to free Marilyn
from that dress?
the dress behind, caught
in a floor-to-ceiling web of fishing line
as hourglass as the actress…
The poem continues:
…the eye loves to rely on memory,
so you will almost miss those holes in the billows, the shreds…
Everyone thinks, indeed, of the actress when one recalls the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe standing over a grate from which a hot breeze throws upward the skirt to her white dress. It takes a poet’s eye to turn towards the dress—Danho’s ability to see more than the obvious enhances her poetic prowess.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be anthologies she edits because they focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work. Soffwana Yasmnin engages her poem "Jade" from her THE THORN ROSARY: SELECTED PROSE POEMS AND NEW (19980-2010) . Her latest book, 147 MILLION ORPHANS (MMXI-MML), is also reviewed by Joey Madia at New Mystics Reviews as well as at Book Masons Cafe Press Website and Literary Aficionado.
And her latest anthology as editor, VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA, receives an engagement in this issue of GR by Aileen Ibardaloza; at Manila Standard Today by Jenny Ortuoste; at North American Review by Vince Gotera; and at Philippine Inquirer by Luis H. Francia.