It’s natural that poetry, with its oft-emphasized imagery, and the visual arts, like painting and photography, would make for good collaborations. In 2013, New York’s Museum of Modern Art did just that by having a poet read in the museum’s galleries while visitors viewed the artwork. To quote MoMA’s website, “Visitors’ responses revealed that the combination of poetry and visual art breathed life into the respective mediums … provided an opportunity to focus … on a work from different perspectives and think about it in new ways.” Indeed, this appears to be the intention of collaborative efforts in two recent books bringing together local artists and poets.
The first, Under the Kaufmann’s Clock (Six Gallery Press), teams poet Angele Ellis and photographer Rebecca Clever for 83 Pittsburgh-centric pages. While Clever’s black-and-white photos are thematically and compositionally interesting, giving readers pause to consider connections, the publisher’s decision not to use glossy, more high-definition printing robs them of some clarity and power. The same can’t be said of Ellis’ strong writing, which veers between prose, haiku-like epigraphs and narrative poems.
In “Landscape,” Ellis highlight’s the city’s vistas, writing of “[t]hat first hint of gold in the Tubes / when you come through / at night: the trumpets / of daffodil lights, / lifting Pittsburgh like spring.” UtKC effectively revolves around the four seasons, with subject matter ranging from memories of past relationships to a Phyllis Hyman concert at the Stanley Theater in 1979. While instances of prose are solid, Ellis is at her best in narrative poems like the sexually charged “Fake Fur Christmas,” which ends with the speaker running her “hands over the flanks. / just to see some electricity / that comes from friction, the collision / of a body with the atmosphere.”
Another collaboration, The 4 Seasons ($30, order through firstname.lastname@example.org), finds poet and Clarion University professor Phillip Terman’s verses coming to life among 35 pages of Mercer, Pa., artist James Stewart’s naturalistic oil paintings. This book is literally a piece of art, beautifully hand-sewn by Susan Frakes, a well-known bookbinder in the Clarion area. Terman’s well-crafted meditations run philosophical, using seasons as big-picture metaphors when he asks, “how many do we have left? Spring dusks I mean?” Terman’s pastoral imagery throughout The 4 Seasons gels nicely with Stewart’s landscapes, and like UtKC, rich artistry and potent writing bloom together, making these group-efforts greater than their parts.