If you are in the Philly area on Wed Oct 13, there will be a great poetry reading at La Salle University (where I teach) by David Livewell, author of Woven Light: Poems and Photographs from Andrew Wyeth's Pennsylvania.
The author is a long-time good friend of mine, so the odds of me writing an objective review of his new book are slim. I don't just hear the words on the page; I hear Dave's voice. I've even read some of these poems years ago in earlier forms. And I also hear personal references in some of them. I don't just hear the words a poet has written (and you should always read poetry out loud), I hear Dave, my friend, someone with whom I am emotionally connected. There's a deeper resonance when I read his poems, like an ongoing, simultaneous echo of his work and our shared memories.
That said, I'm also not a big fan of poetry reviews. I'm often frustrated by their inability to describe a poet's distinct voice. I think I want poetry reviewers to treat books of poems as they do works of fiction. "Tell me the narrative of these poems, as well as something about their construction." I've rarely read a poetry review that didn't leave me baffled as to what the poems are about. Sometimes a book reviewer's personality takes over a review and the review becomes more about the reviewer than the book, but in poetry reviews I almost always find this to be the case. That's frustrating.
So, an ideal poetry review should be a few words of context about the author, the work, etc and then just two or three of the poems. That's what I want from a poetry review. I want to know if I'm going to like the poems. So here's my review of Woven Light by David Livewell:
Livewell has been fascinated with Andrew Wyeth's works for most of his life. He's corresponded with Wyeth, met several members of the family and spent many hours tramping the Wyeth country in Chadds Ford, PA. The poems of Woven Light all take their starting point from a Wyeth work. The ideal book format would be a juxtaposition of Wyeth's paintings with the corresponding poems. But that kind of copyright permission is enormously expensive and difficult to attain. Livewell's solution is to create his own photographs (and similar composition) of some of the same scenic areas Wyeth painted. Every poem is laid out next to a beautiful color photograph, creating a kind of aesthetic triptych: Wyeth painting, photograph and poem.
Here are two from the collection. Hear more on Wed night, Oct 13, 6PM. I'll be there.
The Artist Addressed
The landscape browns, and all around is death,
Your father’s casket buried deep as grief.
But swept forth like a leaf,
Young Allan Lynch comes pumping out of breath,
A deadly shadow hawking his decline.
With flapping pilot cap and army coat,
A hand that seems to float
And grope for balance, he is the life line
Sent to pull you up the hillside’s climb
To railroad tracks where N.C.’s voice still drums
You home. Your past becomes
An engine-whistle’s echo stuck in time.
His death has tempered you to paint your hate
As well as love. Untethered from his snare,
But fixed in Pa’s cold stare,
You now begin the art that is your fate.
Snow Hill, 1989
This final tempera is what they give
For gratitude, the dead and living hand
In hand, a merry band
Of models joined by him in whom they live.
The Maypole lowers colored ribbons down
From a Christmas pine atop a wagon wheel.
Their Chadds Ford lives congeal
To form, above his most-loved place, a crown.
On the summit of their hill, the Kuerners dance.
Bill Loper swings from them, his hook in the hand
Of Helga, whose braids are fanned
By the circling force that feeds the snowbound trance.
Then, from ’46, young Allan Lynch
Holds on to Adam Johnson . . . . But note the spare
White ribbon dangling there
For him who froze their lives and will not flinch.
Bob Duggan has also written a perceptive review of Woven Light, which addresses Wyeth's work.
David Livewell's reading at La Salle University is Wed Oct 13 at 6PM in the Atrium of Holroyd Hall. La Salle is located at 20th and Olney Aves in Philadelphia. Hope to see you there.
There's also a podcast interview with Livewell at Ron Vitale's blog. Enjoy.