Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi (Trinity University Press, 2004)

I have been slowly working my way through this book, a veritable tome of information that invariably leads me into new vistas every time I pick it up. Most recently, I was reading the section on “convention as illusion,” which discussed the “orange problem” in cartography. The chapter led into Winslow Homer’s trip to France and his works’ derision by the American art establishment, of all things, which gets me to thinking about his painting The Gleaners (1867) and a conversation I had at a poets’ dinner about Agnes Vardas’ documentary The Gleaners & I. This, of course, loops back to the former: “gleaning” is about imagination, which leads me back to how one charts those items selected, what is overlooked by others and made relevant, even “art,” by others’ standards.

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri (1923. Basic Books, 2007)

A collection of Henri’s lectures and writings that speak more of inspiration than technical craft, though you can find that in here too. I am thoroughly compelled by his understanding that the brushstroke itself is a trace of the artist’s process: “He who has contemplated has met with himself…and seeing and feeling intensely, he paints, and…each brush stroke is an exact record of such as he was at the exact moment the stroke was made.”

Miraculum Monstrum by Kathline Carr (Red Hen Press, 2017)

An electrifying novel-in-verse framed as a retrospective of the fictive artist Tristia Vogel compiled by the art historian Carla Kase (nearly an anagram of Carr’s own name), who curates and contextualizes Vogel’s late stage work. The verse is lush, descriptive, and a real page-turner–the footnotes, testimony, sketches, and artwork fill in the story as it unfolds. I am fascinated by the intricate weaving of disparate genres under the curator’s (cum Carr’s) hand that inextricably ties the critical lens with sonorous, lyrical language and the art object into a gripping modern, dystopic fairytale set in a post-apocalyptic, climate-changed Earth.

Mêmewars by Adeena Karasick (Talon Books, 1994)

I am rereading Mêmewars, the feminist linguistic and conceptual tour-de-force. The Hebrew grapheme “Mem,” can be spelled two ways with different meanings dependent on the chosen sign; the title invokes also the French phoneme “même” [same] and Greek “meme” [imitation]. To call hers deconstructive poetry would be to reduce it to mere category and render it dated. The verse is as poignant for me today as it was when I found my copy in the mid 90s; it is sonically vibrant, indeterminate, co-creative in both a dissonate and unified way that exposes, critiques, inserts, and questions narratives surrounding female Jewish identity and culture. Karasick breaks down language for its sound as much as its meaning at the level of phoneme and morpheme. I love the book’s power of language to critique hegemony.

because there is no place to go back to–
when there’s always receiving
an extravag(r)ance of
surface(s) as historicies lapsus as
centers surge swimming in
the midst of aural memory   a glasseous
maximus (up so floating) tremulous
in these words a
porous process

Red Cherry on a White-tiled Floor by Maram Al-Massri, translated by Khaled Mattawa (Bloodaxe Books, 2007)

A collection of brief lyrics reminiscent of Lorca’s poems of deep image, this sequence of numbered poems serve as fragments in a series; each small poem, a moment in an erotic, unravelling love story. This book was and remains to this day a firebrand: a poignant window into a woman’s sexuality in the real, lived dystopia of late 1970s-early 1980s Syria before Al-Massri’s exile to France. I am fascinated by the way she can capture the feeling of the moment, albeit so briefly, as an image, a metaphor, as a song; and to have the pleasure of reading the intimate displays of a woman’s inner life in verse unbecoming of Syrian poetry, a threat to Syrian culture.


I apologize…
and unintentionally,
my breezes
shook your branches
and dropped
the only flower
you’d ever bloomed.