Review by David Lee Garrison (email)
by Lianne Spidel
Finishing Line Press
P. O. Box 1626
Georgetown , Kentucky 40324
28 pp, $14
All of the poems in this book have to do with art or with some form of human creativity. They are about paintings and the act of painting, about seeing your own face or someone else's in a work of art, about woodworkers and sculptors, about making paper hats with children, about an ephemeral creation made from 10,000 sticky notes, about teenagers singing "Silent Night" in German while at the same time expressing it in American Sign Language, and about making poems. To read Chrome is to wander through a gallery of the arts.
The theme of art interweaves with many other subjects such as love, family, friendship, and joy. The title poem, for example, expresses an essential characteristic of the poet's father, to whom the book is dedicated. He was an artist who made his living painting cars for advertisements in magazines and on billboards. Anyone over fifty remembers those illustrations that shone with the grilles and fins of the heavy old Fords, Cadillacs, and Chevrolets. Younger people know the cars from parades and antique car shows, and the paintings from nostalgic representations of the forties and fifties in movies and magazines.
Those car paintings, and there is a fine one on the front cover of the book, take us back to the day when virtually all cars were made in Detroit, back to the day when many Americans bought a new car every other year, back to the days when boys and girls made out on summer evenings at the drive-in movie. The poet's father was a master in that time and world of chrome, and yet what the young artists who learned under his tutelage remember about him is the way he "turned from the drawing board, / took off his glasses, / gave them his full attention." Art, the poet suggests, begins with listening and observation.
The observations of Lianne Spidel are sometimes poignant, sometimes ironic, always precise. There is a thrill that comes in the reading of each poem when we say to ourselves, "Yes, that's it, she's hit the nail on the head." In Terra Cotta Charioteer, for example, the warrior’s eyes
...focus forever on an approaching
army or the distant hills ahead,
in what for us will always be the past
and for him the future,
as the centuries slide past each other
like trains on double tracks
where the motion of the one
loses itself entirely
against the motion of the other
and the charioteer's sightless
eyes with their memorized mission
just miss meeting my own.
What the poet expresses so well here is the magical present tense of art. Centuries after the artist formed the figure, the warrior still scans the horizon with a mission in mind. The poet sees him and sees that he does not see her. His terra cotta body takes new form on the printed page as she turns him into words, and we are transformed by those words as we imagine the exhibit, the poet observing the figure, the man upon whom the figure was modeled, even the wars in which he fought. We lose ourselves in art "as the centuries slide past each other."
It does not matter at all if we are not familiar with some of the art works described here--the poems stand alone. The paintings and sculptures and paper hats serve as starting points for the poet's reflections on art and the process of creating it. Woman in Blue, takes us into the Edward Hopper painting, High Noon, a haunting study of a woman standing in a doorway:
That she stands there, hand opening
her dressing gown, eyes lifted
full of ardor, might suggest prayer--
except for her shoes,
high heels with little bows, the one
adornment in sight. Even the table
visible through the window holds
neither fruit nor greenery.
The poet considers the woman in blue as if she were a character in a novel and imagines a narrative about her:
...it's possible she is only
taking in the midpoint of a summer day,
nearly naked in the blue-shadowed
doorway of her simple house...
The woman in the painting gazes out at the day, not revealing her thoughts, and the poet gazes back, wondering who she is, what she is doing. The painting remains a mystery, and yet the poet has focused our attention on the details of the painting and caused us to consider what they might mean. This ekphrastic poem, this poem about a painting, intrigues us, makes us want to go to the gallery and see for ourselves.
In a reference to the enchantress who metamorphoses Ulysses's men, the poet describes "Circe's best trick, the one / that makes her dangerous, gives her an edge..." Lianne Spidel's work has a dangerous edge as well, and her poems will enchant you.
David Lee Garrison’s new book of poems is Sweeping the Cemetery (Browser Books).